Explaining Art

Or in this case, not explaining art.

The introduction to the 35th-anniversary edition of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand starts as follows,

Ayn Rand held that art is a “re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgements.” By its nature, therefore, a novel (like a statue or a symphony) does not require or tolerate an explanatory preface; it is a self-contained universe, aloof from commentary, beckoning the reader to enter, perceive, respond. ~ Leonard Peikoff

Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yet I explain my writing.

First off, let me just say that Ayn Rand’s style of writing, while daunting with how much of it there is, is amazing. She writes like no other I’ve read. Magical and pulling you in.

I have found as I write, especially as I blog, I feel the need to explain myself. I preface my writing. I explain why I wrote something the way I did, or what motivated me to do so. I tell what I was thinking about, feeling like I will never have the reader really understand me unless I explain it away. I’m the type of person to explain a joke in more depth than just telling the joke. I’m the one who has to get down to the nitty-gritty of a dress instead of just saying, “a blue dress”. I have to go into way too much detail.

I guess I always feel like I won’t be understood, which is crazy, because if I write with just enough detail, won’t the reader be able to understand?  Do I need to reader to understand exactly how I am picturing what I write? I’m sure I don’t imagine Hogwarts to look like how J.K. Rowling  pictured it, but does she care? Can you care?

Honestly, it gets to be a little exhausting to get all the details out there about how you envision something. No, my characters will never be imagined how I describe them because each person thinks about things differently.

And each situation that I write will be experienced a different way by each reader. I can’t control how you think. Nor do I really want to. Sure, if I’m describing someone as looking like Brad Pitt, well then, you can imagine Brad Pitt. But all my other various situations, you can’t.

I didn’t really think that much about my prefacing everything I write until more recently when I realized at my writing group that I had to explain everything I was writing. Do I really need to? I think it comes from not feeling confident with what I have written. I always worry that maybe it isn’t good enough, so I had best explain it. I even did it this last week when I was at the writing circle because I wasn’t feeling very confident with the scene I had written. Not because it wasn’t good, but because there was no actual context for what I had written. I had had a scene in my head from a dream, it worked with an idea I had for a novel I have been writing for years, so I wrote it. But it takes place far into the novel. And it has no other scenes or ideas surrounding it. It just is.

See, even there I am explaining myself. Why? Do you really need to know all of what I am thinking? But yet I feel the need to explain why I wrote something.

Does Van Gogh’s Starry Night’ need explaining? Does it need a ‘preface’? Do we need an explanation on why Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’ are so perfect? No. Do we even need a reason why The Great Gatsby is one of America’s most wonderful novels?( I say that after reading Jesse’s post on the novel. I suggest you read it if you love Gatsby as much as we do.) But do any of these great works of life need a preface?


So, maybe I ought to stop explaining.



2 thoughts on “Explaining Art

  1. There may be a distinction to be made between works created for self-expression, those meant to be experiential, and those meant to convey a specific meaning. The first two can just fly out there–let ’em see it how they will–but the last isn’t done until your meaning has been understood, and sometimes that takes a little extra effort or explanation.

    • I totally agree, and I actually didn’t think of explaining it the way you did. There are definitely some things that must and have to be explained otherwise, complete misunderstanding. 🙂 Which I’m very good at as well because there are times the conversation I am having in my head does not come out of my mouth and people stare at me blankly as they try to make sense of what I said, giving less information than I should have. 😛

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