On 'Death of the author'. · 11:55am
So, I thought somebody was wrong on the internet.
But then I wrote a response. And then I actually posted that response... That pretty much never happens. For good reason too: misunderstandings cause all of the problems, and it's harder to misunderstand silence. While I haven't changed my sentiments exactly, I already feel slightly bad about posting this, because (irony warning) I probably misunderstood a video I thought was decrying people for misunderstanding art and blaming it on the viewer. And now, well, here we are.
I don't care that this won't be read - I just feel bad it was wasted in a Youtube comment on a video that probably didn't deserve it. Not that I think it's a bad comment, or wrong per-say, it just seems unnecessary. But so many things in life are unnecessary, and I've left so little of myself anywhere that it'd be nice to think that something I wrote will perhaps sit in some data archive, only to be crawled by a bored, sapient machine 80 years hence, and our immortal robot overlords can have a mechanical chortle at my brief, foolish existence.
Wow... that got dark... And adjectivey. Shut up, spellcheck.
'there is no "correct" interpretation of any art' - Gibbontake
Those are literally the exact words I would use to define the term 'Death of the author'.
An artist has an idea. They express it in a piece of art. The artist then has an opinion of the art, the viewer also has an opinion of the art. Both opinions are equally valid.
If the two are close then the piece of art was a 'success' because it communicated the original idea well.
The viewer's opinion never exactly matches the original idea, for never can they experience that idea directly - that's what art is for: trying to communicate ideas.
It's no ruder to ignore the author's opinion on their artwork than to ignore the viewer's, since neither has intrinsic value or correctness - they are only opinions, not facts. Note that neither is the original idea either. The artist's idea never gets ignored but it's also never seen except by the artist.
It's irrelevant if the viewer seems to be ignoring or misinterpreting the artist's idea, for they can never truly know it anyway. All they can see is the artwork. Ignored artwork isn't 'Death of the author', it's 'Death of the reader'. Misinterpreted artwork is never the viewer's fault unless the viewer is literally (literally 'literally', not figuratively 'literally') a chimpanzee (hyperbole - yes) without the mental faculties to grasp an idea close to the one the author had. Even then, it's hard to assign blame exactly.
If a viewer lacks context to interpret a piece of art 'correctly' (close to the author's intent) then the onus is on the artist to provide that context to prevent misunderstanding. It is not (always) possible to 'explain' the correct context later, or say "it makes sense in context" and expect the viewer to interpret the work 'correctly'. Context changes the opinion a viewer forms on a piece of art - if an artist provides none then they implicitly permit all opinions anyway.
Telling the viewer what a piece of art 'really means' (explaining the idea behind it) is simply more art, and only gives the viewer another viewpoint on that idea, another opinion. And why should the second opinion outweigh the first? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. Maybe it provides enough context that the viewer forms a new opinion on the original work that's closer to the artist's and they then hold that second opinion in higher regard. Success! But if not, well, sometimes an artist has to accept that their idea was never truly going to reach that viewer anyway. The viewer isn't the artist. They don't share exactly the same context. They don't share a brain. It's not a blind person's fault they can't understand a painting - nor a painter's fault for choosing to paint instead of composing music (bad call trying to paint for the blind though). Telling me what a picture means doesn't make it mean that to me - it just tells me what it means to you.
I understand that seeing a piece of art 'fail' (that is fail to communicate an idea) is frustrating, perhaps maddening. It feels insulting because, by failing to communicate an idea to the viewer, the viewer is showing the artist that their work has failed. Unfortunately, not all things succeed. The artist can be insulted by that (if that's how their brain is set up - not much of a choice I suppose) and then afterwards they can make more art in the hopes that it may succeed, or they can accept failure and move on - it's not in the viewer's control at all. The viewer only responds to the art, they did not set out with the intention to insult the artist (unless the viewer is objectively an obtuse dickhole being a troll) and the artist cannot legitimately blame the viewer if they don't like the viewer's response. The artist, not the viewer, is the initiating party in this exchange.
I know it's not fair that an artist can produce something, spend their time and effort, only to end up feeling bad after having their artwork misunderstood (willfully or not). But barring outright malicious trolling and abuse, which is unacceptable regardless, I'm afraid it's self-inflicted pain. Don't want any responses you might not like? Don't make art. Criticism is a thing: it's how we learn and improve. Bad criticism is also a thing, ignoring it seems the most prudent thing to do.
In the end though, the viewer's opinion is theirs, not the artist's. The artist can try to change it, but they can't force it to change. But it's all just opinions anyway. Opinions all the way down...
This is all, of course, just my opinion. :)