Anyone who doubts the subjective nature of art need look for persuasion no farther than Amazon’s review pages. For instance, Stephen R. Lawhead’s Hood received opinions varying from the effusive “Lawhead at his best” and “rip-roaring good story” to the insistent “no real plot, resolution, or drama” and “slow, uninspired and pointless.” How could the same piece of writing inspire such wildly differing reactions? You have to wonder if these reviewers were even reading the same book!
For better or worse, art (like life) is subjective. Not one of us looks at a story, a painting, a movie, or a concert in the same way. We each see the same structure; we each read the same words; but we all take something individual, and therefore indefinably precious, away from the encounter. Experiencing art is like watching clouds. Two people can lie on the same grassy hill, watching the same cloud formations. But how they interpret the shapes of the clouds is an entirely individual experience. You may see a poodle on a leash, while in the same cloud, I see a drag race.
Part of the magic of the artistic experience is its endless evolution. It is never static. Even once the writer has put the final touch on his piece, it continues to live and morph and grow through the experiences of the reader. When we hand our writing over to others, we’re unavoidably surrendering our control over it. We can’t sit at the reader’s shoulder and dictate how he envisions our characters or how he reacts to the themes. If we could, it would largely defeat the point of art, not to mention the enjoyment.
Subjectivity is sometimes a hard notion to accept. Because we’re limited by our own visions of the world, it isn’t automatic for us to realize that other visions are not only out there but, in fact, they are everywhere. It’s a natural human reaction for us to suppose that our own reactions and beliefs should be shared by everyone. As a result, it can sometimes be quite a shock to realize that everyone isn’t going to view our writing the same way we do.
Despite its universalism, this is a truth that few of us manage to grasp right off. However, it’s very important that we do grasp it. Until we do, we’ll never be able to take advantage of it.
Once we embrace the subjectivity of art, we can:
- Accept that the painful rejection of our work by some of our readers is inevitable and even warranted, given the wide range of personalities who will read it.
- Realize that bad reviews aren’t necessarily reflective on the quality of our work. Everyone and his mother’s uncle is entitled to his opinion. And no two people’s opinions are going to be exactly alike. If one person adores your work, then you can expect that someone else will hate it with equal fervency. Your work can’t speak to everyone. The sooner we accept this fact, the easier it will be to brush away the sting of negativity.
- Open our eyes to the fact that differing opinions give us the opportunity to widen our scope and deepen our work. Occasionally (and sometimes more than occasionally) your negative reviewers may just have a point or two. If you can handle the negativity, you may just gain more from reading your bad reviews than you do from your good reviews. The varying vantage points of other people can help you see yourself, your writing, and your flaws more clearly.
- Embrace the wide variety of humanity. If everyone in the world shared our opinions down to the last dot, it would be a ridiculously dull place. Despite the drawbacks and occasional nicks of pride, subjectivity, at its very heart, is the only reason art is worth pursuing. It allows us all a broader canvas on which to paint, experiment, fail, and succeed.
The Importance of Pleasing Ourselves in Our Writing
Putting Your Ego in Your Back Pocket
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Story by K.M. Weiland