Last night I volunteered at my improv school, The Staircase, for a performance called The Six-Minute Memoir. As a fringe benefit of working the show (and I use the term “working” very loosely) I got to see 13 different writers share their experiences in writing and life. All of them shared something of value which resonated with me to varying degrees, but I want to mention a thought I had when I was listening to the youngest speaker in the ensemble, Eva Kay. Only 17, she is already an accomplished poet, and from what I could tell in the brief time I spoke with her, a lovely girl.
Yet I have to confess that I had some negative thoughts when she was reciting her poetry; She touched on some heavy themes and I started to think, “What serious shit has this girl ever dealt with that makes her think she knows about life?” I mulled this thought over for a few seconds as I listened to her recite words that seemed pretentious from my clouded point of view, but then I realized something: It’s not about her experiences. it’s about mine. Good poetry, good art for that matter, should be appreciated differently by each person because of their own different experiences, and not uniformly as a result of the experiences of the artist. In fact, the art itself should have a transcendent quality wherein the artist’s disposition, experiences, etc. don’t even factor into your appreciation of their work.
I feel kind of dumb for lapsing into this trap of credentialism. So often we go on the authority of what recognized masters say rather than seeing how a message resonates with us without prejudice. And age-ism is just another form of this credentialism. I assumed in my arrogance that because this girl did not share my struggle that she did not know struggle. This is obviously malarky, and to that point one of my favourite quotations is,
“Everyone I know is in the fight of their life.” -Ben Harper, Better Way
Whether or not someone has been through what I’ve been through, they’ve been through something, and to them it was hard, like it was for me. We really have to evaluate every cultural input as if it had no author, lest we allow our ignorance and prejudice to deprive us of some really wonderful things.
To punctuate this point, have you ever gone back and read something of your own volition which you were forced to read in school? If you felt you got more out of it the second time around it wasn’t because the author’s experiences had changed (they might have been dead for years), it was because you had changed. And, as well as reading in a more engaged manner, you had a different (not better, different) perspective that allowed you to get something out of the art which wasn’t there for you before.
The grand revelation is that it’s all about you: If you like a piece of art it’s because you see something positive of yourself in that art; if you are averse to a piece of art it’s because you see something of yourself in the art which you don’t like; if you are indifferent its probably because you don’t relate to it on any level. Either way, the artist as the messenger shouldn’t factor into your judgment.
*Since I’ve abandoned the “Most Interesting” theme I used in blogger.com, I am not quite sure what I want to use as my intro and sign-off for my posts. I may play around with a few things over the next few entries, so expect some inconsistencies.