Between the representation of art and science with Picasso and Einstein, the discovery is made that both art and science are equally valuable, but beyond that, even within one another’s disciplines, both science and art are required to generate a nice balance and thusly increase the appreciation of any given object. Does the author of a work matter when discussing their work? You may think this is a question with only one answer, and to many people, it is, but when you look a little deeper, this actually has a lot of controversy surrounding it.
Analysis of a work is an inherently collaborative effort, as one scholar might miss a symbol or metaphor that another scholar sees right away. How I like to describe this concept is: “Someone had to discover the green light in Gatsby, and someone else had to discover the billboard.” People are going to see different things because people are different. And if you had the fortune of reading Gatsby without a 10th Grade English teacher peeking over your shoulder, you might have noticed nothing at all. Moreover, an analysis should never be definitive.
Analysis of a work of art is more of a science then people might give it credit for, as all we have are theories about the themes of a work. Should somebody come around with a more conclusive theory surrounding the meaning of a work, most will accept it until the next one comes around, and others will deny that it has any validity. You know, just like scientists do. This entire discussion brings us back to the question I proposed earlier. Does the author of a work matter when discussing their work? The controversy surrounding this question is best summarized in two parts, first in the loss of the exploratory experience of analysis. If the author does not comment, then the analysts can do what they’re supposed to do.
Analyze. The author is, pun completely intended, authoritative when it comes to their own work, so for them to explain their work to scholars is to remove all discovery and enjoyment from analysis. So, the author matters in this piece of argument, but they are inherently destructive to true analysis.
The second piece surrounds the idea of forcing an idea. Art is and always should be interpretive. Having a defined message behind a piece is destructive to creatives and non-creatives alike. Stating that your work has to be interpreted in one way not only diminishes your audience’s ability to connect with your work, but it also makes you seem like an asshole, and for good reason. You are the totalitarian ruler of your work, and anyone who disagrees is shot down.
Now, I would like to clarify – a good work should be able to translate the message the author wants to translate to its audience, and there is nothing wrong with creating a work in order to translate a message. The issue is not in that, but in telling your audience what you meant. When you leave no room for interpretation, you make things worse. This brings us to the philosophical argument surrounding this entire concept The Death of the Author. First coined by 1967 by French critic and literary theorist Roland Barthes in his essay of the same name (French: La mort de l’auteur), the term Death of the Author refers to the postmodern critical idea that the creator of a piece and said piece are entirely separate entities from one another.
Barthes says “this has always been the case: once an action is recounted, for intransitive ends, and no longer in order to act directly upon reality – that is, finally external to any function but the very exercise of the symbol – this disjunction occurs, the voice loses its origin, the author enters his own death, writing begins” (Barthes, 1). Essentially, as soon as an author begins making his work, it is no longer his, in a metaphysical sense. The work now belongs to those it depicts, and those who experience it.
This concept is inherently disjointed for most who have been raised in capitalist economic systems. What does it mean that I own this experience? Well, exactly what it says on the cover. You own your experience of the depiction. No matter how the author feels, or even how the art seems to feel, your experience is yours. What you interpret is just as valid as the author or the critic or the whoever. And if you interpret nothing at all, maybe you’re the most valid of all.
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