Note the use of quotation marks sandwiching the word artist. For the purpose of this post, I'm going to use the term to mean someone who has attempted - via their work - to challenge or intrigue the consumer (with entertainment being either an incidental, intended or irrelevant factor). I'm aware that that interpretation might not speak to everyone, but for now, I intend to use it as a shorthand within a reflection on the stance of the artist, post-production.
Writers, painters, sculptors: they're an enigmatic bunch. We - the great unwashed - can infer and interpret all we like; we may never come close to what an artist intended their work to mean, and nor will we ever know. Of course, every artist is aware that once they cede their art to the public for consumption, any number of paradigms may be applied to it, some of which the producer never foresaw; was it likely that Mary Shelley envisaged a homosexual reading of Frankenstein, for instance? And it seems to have always been the case that to divulge one's intentions or hidden meanings behind their art is counter-cultural, T. S. Eliot - who explained the myriad references in The Waste Land in order to educate his readers - being a notable, but rare, exception.
But why? What harm could it really do to be more open about one's art, not just with regard to its layers of meaning, but also its cultural significance, its influences, even its weaknesses? Granted, it would take the mystery out of it, and any Leavis-esque deconstruction on the part of an artist would almost certainly stifle, rather than encourage, further interpretation. But I do see a place for the admission of limitations. That is, an acknowledgement of the fact that originality is difficult, and that rehashing older styles or 'techniques' does happen ... and that it might not always make for a polished piece. Consider the notion of the stream of consciousness, for instance, or its sister concept, free indirect discourse: writers employ both nowadays, but it while they may serve a specific purpose within the narrative, they might sound clunky and contrived in a contemporary novel. And yet there are not that many stylistic options for into a character's inner world; a nod to the irreconcilability here might give the work, and the artist, a bit more kudos (see this article by Guardian writer Toby Litt for more on the pitfalls of artistic 'borrowing').
I'm not about to call myself an artist, but I am open about my books' shortcomings. The Tammersford Lot - a series of short stories - was a book I wrote to raise money for charity, and while that's no excuse for it to be below par, it does have its limitations. I often read it back and suck my teeth; it's very 'school of Joyce' or 'school of Salinger' in terms of style and composition (though please don't for a minute mistake my comparison for arrogance; I'm not putting myself in their league), by warrant of my taste in literature. If I wrote it again, I would have taken more risks; I would have channelled my own voice to a much greater extent.
I still consider myself a baby writer, and I wouldn't say I've entirely found my voice, or my preferred medium, quite yet. However, I will always be prepared to account for what I've written, including any shortcomings or stylistic limitations. That may not be the most conventional stance, and it has nothing to do with faux self-effacement (or 'fishing')! Rather, it's going one step beyond saying 'well I'll never please everyone;' it's saying I wrote something, it met some expectations but not all ... and here's why ...
A series of miscellaneous ramblings.