Don’t worry, this isn’t a religious debate. It’s in regards to an idea I was introduced to via a video on YouTube (link will be at end of post).
If you’ve followed the blog for a while, or my Twitter/Facebook/YouTube feeds, you’re probably aware that I am a fan of anime (Japanese Animation). One of my favorite series of all time is Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Evangelion (Eva, or NGE, for short) was an anime in the mecha genre released by Gainax in 1997. Depending on who you talk to, it either revolutionized anime or was a narrative mess. Regardless, it has had a long and lasting impact on the fan base and particularly on the mecha genre.
The video I recently watched was in regard to the creator of Eva, Hideaki Anno, being quoted as saying he didn’t understand all the fuss. That in his opinion Eva was a simple show with a lot of symbols and such thrown in just to make it look cool. The video then asks a simple question; Even if that is what Anno thinks, does it matter?
Creators, not Interpreters
I’ve published two novels and have several more works either underway or in the planning stages. Each of them means something to me. I’ve tried to weave meanings into them that may never be apparent to anyone other than myself. But does that give me the right to tell every reader what their own interpretation and meaning is?
Assuming we release art (by which I mean all forms of expression) for more than just profit, we must be seeking an emotional response from the people who view and consume that art. Art is conversation, not lecture. If I wish to convey a specific message and it fails, I have no one to blame but myself. On the other hand, if a reader finds an entirely different message that means something to them, who am I to say they are wrong?
Our personal interpretation of art and evaluation of its merits is informed by our own experience and emotional core. Since no two people have lived an identical life, there is bound to be a difference of opinion. If anything, that prospect thrills me. I find it disheartening that any creator would devalue their own work, and their fans’ opinions, in such a way. Besides, if a work contains symbols and archetypes that are just thrown in without any thought to how they belong, the audience is generally intelligent enough to realize it.
Once my words are on paper, my job is finished. I won’t be hovering over your shoulder as you read, pointing out my intended subtext (good thing too, that would be creepy). Some will love the words, others hate them. To some, the words will speak to them, while others will be left feeling cold. That is the nature of art, and I have no place to tell someone whether they are right or wrong.
This also speaks to the cardinal rule of authors, which is to not make comments on the reviews left by readers. Certainly, if the review is nothing but personal attack, issue should be raised, but when someone presents a well thought out and balanced criticism, it shouldn’t be ignored. In fact, it should be heeded. There are many unfortunate instances where authors didn’t keep their mouths shut. Their insistence that the audience was wrong did nothing but damage their careers and alienate the very people they supposedly wanted to reach.
In Harbinger, I left a few dangling ideas and story bits. I did that because I wanted the ideas planted, but didn’t want to fully address them until Suture. These dangling ideas were probably the most cited issue people had with Harbinger. And so, in Suture, I sought to leave no dangling ideas. By the end, characters are in precarious positions, and there’s still one or two mysteries left, but they are ongoing ones, not one off sentences that are never addressed again. You the readers, who voiced your opinions, made me change mine. In the same way, Bleeding Worlds Book Three might be influenced by the response to Suture. Like I said, it’s a conversation.
So if you’re an artist, make the best art you can. But realize the moment it leaves your hands, your exclusive right to say what it means is at an end. And if you are a consumer of art, let your heart tell you what it means without fear of being “wrong.”
Talk further soon,