An artist's dominion over their art

SheSaidSheSaidSheSaidSheSaid Washed Up
edited July 2012 in Less Rokk More Talk
This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. Do you think an artist has the right to say what the 'best' or 'correct' interpretation of one of their creations is?

On the surface, it would seem the answer is an obvious yes. Duhh, they're the one that wrote the song/shaped the sculpture/shot the movie/etc, so OF COURSE they know what it's really about.

But the more I think about it (and that may be the issue right there :p ) that seems like an oversimplification.

I found a bunch of old DVD's cleaning out my bedroom over the last couple of days, and one of them is the acoustic concert One Cold Night by Seether, a band I quite love. I've had the concert on my mp3 player (it was a CD/DVD combo) for some time, but what I hadn't seen in at least a couple of years was the nearly hour-long interview session with the band held (I believe) afterwards, included on the DVD.

The interviewer asks Seether's frontman Shaun Morgan why he doesn't typically reveal what songs are about, and his answer kind of amazed me. He said "What if my explanation sucks?"

Mind = blown.

I was always aware of the sickeningly sweet ideal that "Oh, it means something different for every person!" But I always kinda questioned whether artists really believe that. "Yes, you think this song is about X, and that's just super, but it's really about Y."

And maybe Morgan still does think that and just didn't want to say so publicly. But it really got me to thinking. Later when discussing their then-current big hit "The Gift," Morgan said "People, stop asking me what it is, because I don't even know." That's pretty mind-blowing, too.

Ambiguity in art, when done properly (and here's one of my favorite examples for when it's not, though it seems I'm in the minority on that) can be awesome. Say what you will about the movie Cube, but when SPOILERZ the savant steps out of the cube into the shimmering white light beyond, and we're left wondering what all is there, with no direct resolution....doesn't that just capture your imagination? And no, it was not ruined by the sequels. Because those sequels never happened. Shut up, they didn't!

(Sorta kidding, but sorta not...the mediocre sequel and the absolutely abominable prequel, neither was directed by the guy who made the first, so why are their crappy explanations any better than yours or mine, let alone the original director's?)

I'm rambling and getting off point a little, but yeah. Do you think an artist's interpretation of their own work is best contextualized as just one of many such interpretations? Should an artist explain their work?

I know the common answers are probably going to be "maybe," "sometimes," and "it depends," so do tell what it depends on :p

I think about my own work - one of my screenplays largely centers on a relationship between a young man and woman. They profess the relationship to be strictly platonic, but there are ample implications they both feel more for another. It's left ambiguous. In my own vision (if I can say that without sounding like a complete pompous jackass), I believe the two really are just friends...but I wouldn't dream of saying that that's the end-all-be-all answer just because it's my answer.

Comments

  • jibjqrkljibjqrkl Eventually Perceptive
    edited June 2012
    SheSaidSheSaid;4792410 said:


    The interviewer asks Seether's frontman Shaun Morgan why he doesn't typically reveal what songs are about, and his answer kind of amazed me. He said "What if my explanation sucks?"

    Great example of this would be "the trees" by Rush.

    lot of people seeing deeper meanings about oppression and communism and what not.

    Neil Peart: "I felt like making a song about trees after seeing a cartoon about trees"
  • DAMdudeDAMdude Opening Act
    edited June 2012
    If psychology taught me anything it's that an artist can say his or her art means one thing, but we are all slaves of our subconscious. What ever you think you might be doing, chances are it's deeper than you think.

    My wife and I are both artist of many different types of media, and it's awesome to interpret each others work. Seeing as we know each other better than anyone else in this world.
  • ClaptonsWigClaptonsWig I Can't Dance
    edited June 2012
    I Am The Walrus, let the f*cker work that one out.
  • www1221www1221 StackOverflowError
    edited June 2012
    I wrote a paper in High School about the meaning of I Am The Walrus.

    Think about that one :P
  • DerLindwurmDerLindwurm Road Warrior
    edited June 2012
    The older I get, the more I agree with those who say there's never a "wrong" way to interpret art.
  • CJHobbesCJHobbes Road Warrior
    edited June 2012
    I'm so glad you referenced Cube, that movie is too awesome to be lost in the historical archives of cinema.

    To answer the specific question: Do you think an artist has the right to say what the 'best' or 'correct' interpretation of one of their creations is? Technically, I believe an artist has the right (with extreme exceptions, of course) to present their work however they want. However I think it's fruitless for an artist to believe that they can force their own viewpoint onto the consumer, so a realistic expectation that no two people will interpret it the same way must be held.

    Generally, I feel any artist can and will appreciate an individual's viewpoint on their project. The exception, I would say, is if someone uses their own interpretation to force a viewpoint back on the artist or stir up any sort of controversy with a misunderstanding (i.e. skewing the work to support a cause that the artist didn't intend).

    To parrot DerLindwurm's post, there's never a wrong way to interpret art. I'd guess the majority of artists are ultimately happy that someone took the time to look at their work, and the very few who scowl at those who don't "get it" just come off as pretentious *****s; and then complain that no one "understands" them. :p
  • HeyRilesHeyRiles Besse's Girl
    edited June 2012
    An artist's intent is rarely the audience's interpretation. It's pretty black and white
  • ClaptonsWigClaptonsWig I Can't Dance
    edited June 2012
    See Slayers "Disciple". That is easily the most black and white you could get.
  • Sargehalo51Sargehalo51 Road Warrior
    edited July 2012
    DerLindwurm;4792449 said:
    The older I get, the more I agree with those who say there's never a "wrong" way to interpret art.

    I think this is a pretty good answer.

    What annoys me is when I see people on these forums insisting that some band's music is from some specific genre/sub-genre, when the band itself considers itself and it's music to be something different. In those cases, I gotta side with the artist who created the songs.
  • GowienczykGowienczyk Pooper of Parties
    edited July 2012
    I gotta side with the artist who created the songs.
    No, in a lot of cases a band has little knowledge of genre history or what sounds mean what. A good case of every post-hardcore or "alternative rock" citation by bands in the last decade. There is a process, wisdom and proper understanding for classification of sound.

    An artist knows their "influences" and their "favorites" and that is mostly it with sound development with musicians.
  • Sargehalo51Sargehalo51 Road Warrior
    edited July 2012
    Gowienczyk;4804112 said:
    No, in a lot of cases a band has little knowledge of genre history or what sounds mean what. A good case of every post-hardcore or "alternative rock" citation by bands in the last decade. There is a process, wisdom and proper understanding for classification of sound.

    An artist knows their "influences" and their "favorites" and that is mostly it with sound development with musicians.

    An example I can think of off the top of my head is when Stone Gossard was asked about Grunge music in reference to Pearl Jam. He very flatly refused to acknowledge or use the term "Grunge" even though he was in Green River, which many consider to be the first true Grunge band.
  • SheSaidSheSaidSheSaidSheSaid Washed Up
    edited July 2012
    Genre labels are just not that important to be fussing over them. Ever. EVER.
  • GowienczykGowienczyk Pooper of Parties
    edited July 2012
    SheSaidSheSaid;4804154 said:
    Genre labels are just not that important to be fussing over them. Ever. EVER.

    For you.

    Genres have their place and the history and understanding is to me essential for music historians, music critics and generally anyone who has a bone for music beyond "I like how it sounds".

    "People who disregard genres entirely are most likely too immature to deal with the idea that their favorite band is categorically generic, which is often the case. People who adhere to genres like religion often do so out of an obsession in protecting whatever music they identify with from that which they "oppose" and, therefore, listen to generic si**t that is exploiting their allegiance. It's important to understand the value and purpose of genre categorization but the best music will always be those that transgress those categories."

    My friend Patrick said that three years ago and a lot of it rings true.
  • Sargehalo51Sargehalo51 Road Warrior
    edited July 2012
    SheSaidSheSaid;4804154 said:
    Genre labels are just not that important to be fussing over them. Ever. EVER.

    I totally agree! Especially when you get into the endless sub-genres. Hell, it's all rock n roll to me! lol
  • GowienczykGowienczyk Pooper of Parties
    edited July 2012
    Sargehalo51;4804159 said:
    I totally agree! Especially when you get into the endless sub-genres. Hell, it's all rock n roll to me! lol

    and that simplicity is fine, just don't pretend it is objectively static and can't be objected to. I'm friends with plenty of people who see music as just "rock, electronic, jazz, blues, metal, hip-hop, etc." - but they don't dare tell me or pretend genres don't have value, significance or relevance because they know it does, they just don't care to divulge or learn it.
  • Sargehalo51Sargehalo51 Road Warrior
    edited July 2012
    Gowienczyk;4804162 said:
    and that simplicity is fine, just don't pretend it is objectively static and can't be objected to. I'm friends with plenty of people who see music as just "rock, electronic, jazz, blues, metal, hip-hop, etc." - but they don't dare tell me or pretend genres don't have value, significance or relevance because they know it does, they just don't care to divulge or learn it.

    Not saying that genres and knowledge of them aren't important, everything has their place. I just personally think the opinion of the artists themselves, in regards to the genre of their music, should be held in high opinion.

    I might call a song Grunge, someone else might call it Alternative, someone else might call it Hard Rock, and the artist might consider it Punk. Who's opinion should matter most?
  • GowienczykGowienczyk Pooper of Parties
    edited July 2012
    someone else might call it Alternative, someone else might call it Hard Rock, and the artist might consider it Punk. Who's opinion should matter most?
    The person who has put years of understanding into objective sound classification and not simply idly listening nor "playing their music". An artist knows their influences, but in many cases they mix influences and favorites (where their favorites may not make it into their actual sounds, but they claim they are an influence).

    An artist is not always the best interpretative nor objective viewer of their art and this is obviously so. A outside person could see their influences and their art; and see something that the artist put in their (albeit subconsciously).
  • Sargehalo51Sargehalo51 Road Warrior
    edited July 2012
    Gowienczyk;4804173 said:
    The person who has put years of understanding into objective sound classification and not simply idly listening nor "playing their music". An artist knows their influences, but in many cases they mix influences and favorites (where their favorites may not make it into their actual sounds, but they claim they are an influence).

    An artist is not always the best interpretative nor objective viewer of their art and this is obviously so. A outside person could see their influences and their art; and see something that the artist put in their (albeit subconsciously).

    You do speak with a great deal of wisdom on the matter, and I agree that an artist may not be able to always view their art objectively. Not sure I agree with you totally, but I do enjoy your well thought out and intelligent answers! :)
  • GowienczykGowienczyk Pooper of Parties
    edited July 2012
    However, I do think an artist's interpetation is something to be weighed in the genre "assessment" to a degree. As the artists perception does exist and isn't imagined completely. Moving on from that, I do thank you for taking my answers evenly instead of reacting obtusely to them. It's a welcome change to some of my previous experiences with replies on genre classification.
  • SheSaidSheSaidSheSaidSheSaid Washed Up
    edited July 2012
    Gowienczyk;4804185 said:
    It's a welcome change to some of my previous experiences with replies on genre classification.

    Meaning me, I'm guessing. I just don't see the frikkin point of ragegasming over "This is METAL GODDAMNIT!" "No, **** YOU, this is HARD ROCK!" And so on.
  • Sargehalo51Sargehalo51 Road Warrior
    edited July 2012
    Gowienczyk;4804185 said:
    However, I do think an artist's interpetation is something to be weighed in the genre "assessment" to a degree. As the artists perception does exist and isn't imagined completely. Moving on from that, I do thank you for taking my answers evenly instead of reacting obtusely to them. It's a welcome change to some of my previous experiences with replies on genre classification.
    Your quite welcome, I very much enjoy civil debates. I know some people get crazy passionate and downright ignorant, especially with metal genres/sub-genres.
  • LiveHomeVideoLiveHomeVideo Trying too hard
    edited July 2012
    I still feel that the artist is the one who knows what the song is about. I could right a song about a puppy who gets lost and ends up getting found, and someone could try to claim it's a song about losing faith and then finding it again. No, I felt like writing a damn children's song! just with more blast beats :p
  • GowienczykGowienczyk Pooper of Parties
    edited July 2012
    SheSaidSheSaid;4804195 said:
    Meaning me, I'm guessing. I just don't see the frikkin point of ragegasming over "This is METAL GODDAMNIT!" "No, **** YOU, this is HARD ROCK!" And so on.

    I'm speaking more of experiences on gaiaonline, though some of your thoughts on the subject seem like preludes to less than understanding conversations. And I don't see the point of the "common" individual (someone who doesn't know anything about music for example) getting antsy over it. But knowing the difference between several subsects is just the same as understanding the difference between psychological thriller/horror and slasher horror-- as a pretext for reccomendations, understanding and just plain intriuqe. Music history and classification is just as interesting as anything else in a classification school.

    As for why people do it? People feel very attached to their genres (punk, alternative and metal are the biggest ones for this) and identify with what they mean, what they represent and despise anything that stakes claim to it that is meaning otherwise. I personally am not offended when someone claims something is metal or punk, when I get offended it's based on their lack of knowledge regarding the issue or their arrogant self-righteousness; but usually a combination of all three.

    I also take offense when someone says my passions (genre classification being one) is pointless, worthless or irrelevant however, which is why I got a jolt in my neck upon your first post regarding genres.
    I still feel that the artist is the one who knows what the song is about. I could right a song about a puppy who gets lost and ends up getting found, and someone could try to claim it's a song about losing faith and then finding it again. No, I felt like writing a damn children's song! just with more blast beats
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grave_of_the_Fireflies#Story_origin_and_interpretations

    It happens.
  • SheSaidSheSaidSheSaidSheSaid Washed Up
    edited July 2012
    Sargehalo51;4804196 said:
    Your quite welcome, I very much enjoy civil debates. I know some people get crazy passionate and downright ignorant, especially with metal genres/sub-genres.

    Subgenres are even worse.

    "No this is black metal!"

    "No this is doom metal!"

    "No this is speed metal!"

    It's a big angry song with loud, fast guitars. You know where to go in a record store (LOL like anyone goes to a record store anymore) if you want to buy it.
  • GowienczykGowienczyk Pooper of Parties
    edited July 2012
    SheSaidSheSaid;4804203 said:
    Subgenres are even worse.

    "No this is black metal!"

    "No this is doom metal!"

    "No this is speed metal!"

    It's a big angry song with loud, fast guitars. You know where to go in a record store (LOL like anyone goes to a record store anymore) if you want to buy it.

    Metal is so much beyond "angry, loud and fast", in fact a few metal genres are the antithesis of this belief. I still find substyles interesting and discussing them is always something to take in and learn something about other perceptions or outlooks. Though, I really wish your posts about this wouldn't feel so patronizing to me.
  • SheSaidSheSaidSheSaidSheSaid Washed Up
    edited July 2012
    Nor yours to me. You're basically saying I'm too stupid to enjoy what you enjoy.

    I'm not going any further with this.
  • GowienczykGowienczyk Pooper of Parties
    edited July 2012
    Nor yours to me. You're basically saying I'm too stupid to enjoy what you enjoy.
    Never said so, in fact the only thing that implies such is my friend Patrick's quotation; which I bolded the reference I was going for in it-- which has no insult. I have been nothing but level and respectful in this case.
  • GNFfhqwhgadsGNFfhqwhgads 99% Washed Up
    edited July 2012
    Reading nothing else(tempting as it is to read Gowi's works, it's far too late to focus), I'm just going to say the artist CAN say which is right, but that doesn't mean the fans need to agree or stay quiet about it.
  • jibjqrkljibjqrkl Eventually Perceptive
    edited July 2012
    SheSaidSheSaid;4804203 said:
    (LOL like anyone goes to a record store anymore)

    i do....
  • www1221www1221 StackOverflowError
    edited July 2012
    jibjqrkl;4804551 said:
    i do....

    Why? Dont you already own every CD ever made?
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