Thoughts on Authorial Intent

My favorite exhibit in modern art museums usually looks something like this: a polished metal surface depicting a scene that also reflects the image of the viewer.

Producing a piece of art is half the work. It’s a balance between giving enough to suggest a framework while allowing space for the viewer to fill in the rest for themselves. I think we are more willing to do this with music than we are with art or poetry, we are willing to accept that music can be a form of pure emotional expression (though language and words are themselves representational) but demand an explanation for a painting or a piece of poetry (which, using symbolism, is also representational admittedly, is also borne from the firing blocks of matter and energy of an individual experience… so whatever.)

What I’m saying is: Nothing comes from nothing. There’s always this urge to categorize art into historical and personal contexts. Saturn Devouring His Son. There’s a zinger of a word: devouring.  Can you feel its charge? A title of a piece left untitled by the artist, labeled later on by the historians who viewed it. The work shows the titan naked, crouching in a shroud of darkness, as he viscerally tears his son’s head from his neck. His eyes communicate pure terror and horror at this act, the startle of the viewer’s discovery mid-bite–and there’s also some evidence the piece originally depicted Saturn with an erection. Nearly five feet tall and three feet wide, it is part of a 14 part series of paintings known as “the black paintings” painted on the plaster walls of Francisco Goya’s private home. Goya painted this scene sometime between 1819 and 1823 on his dining room wall where it was never intended for public viewing.

Oof!

Does an understanding of Goya’s life lead to a richer understanding of the text? Do we need a primer on the horror of isolation, bouts of depression, deafness as a result of serious illness in 1792, and the civil unrest in Spain which Goya struggled through, or is it enough to feed on the pure emotional energy of the image and fill in the blanks ourselves?

Reading another’s writing, consuming their art is an inherently intimate process. These emotions I’m feeling, manifested into thoughts, manifested on words in a journal than on a screen on my apartment floor on a Tuesday night at 7:38 p.m. worm their way inside your brain to be digested and considered. It’s impossible to divorce the artist entirely from the piece. Without knowing anything else about me you might see my name and know the poem was written by a woman, at the very least, who is probably writing from the perspective of being a woman, specifically about her personal experiences.

Ultimately, I hope you read my words and share my feelings and think about the own people and places in your life. I hope that the two of us together can make this a thing of positivity and light.