On the Distance between Art and its Creators

Photo by Nick Kenrick
Photo by Nick Kenrick

Last week my novel went out to beta-readers. Small sections of it have been seen by my critique group, but this is the first time it will be read consecutively, from beginning to end. I’m fiercely proud of the story, and simultaneously fearful about letting it travel out into the world, for now, beyond my control.

It makes me think about the intensely private nature of creating. Art is not made in a vacuum; it is the product of our interactions with the world. Even so, the decisions we make in the creative process are, at least initially, all our own. The introspection of creating is therefore at odds with what happens at the end of the process: a letting go, public reception, a distancing of the art from its creator.

I wonder how I’ll feel once I have more novels under my belt. Tell me, readers, how it is for you? Will I always feel proud and protective, a mother hen? Or will I feel with time that the story belongs more to my readers than to me, like relinquishing your hold on the string of a kite, seeing it drift away or fall? Maybe it is inevitable as we grow as writers to be chagrined by early attempts at the craft, to look back with reddened faces and find immaturity in both content and skill.

Photo by Nick Kenrick
Photo by Nick Kenrick

For me, at this stage, it feels like I am handing over the baton, that all at once the trust that has carried me through the creative process is imbued to the reader. A book is more than the sum of its parts. It is more than black letters on white page, more than characters and plot points. Nestled within the covers and between the lines is the osmosis between reader and writer: shared experience and leaps of thought. And with it, the reckoning. You find out whether authorial intention has met reader understanding.

It’s early days yet, but beta-readers are a gift – patient, insightful – a wonderful litmus test. Soon I’ll have an inkling.

4 thoughts on “On the Distance between Art and its Creators

  1. I definitely feel as though our books belong more to our readers than they do to us, now. Especially the early ones. THE HARVEST is still ours. But it’s an ebb and flow, gradually, a reshaping of imaginations based on the public nature of art and the private nature of creation.

  2. I think ‘handing over the baton’ is a perfect expression. For me, there is no such thing as a finished piece. All art is only 50% complete when it leaves the creator – whether it be a painting, a novel, a photograph of a piece of music. It is up to whomever receives it to complete the journey by bringing their own feelings, their own experiences and opinions to whatever it is you have conjured. This is the nature of the relationship that is fostered between an artist and a viewer or a listener. It is, after all, the reason for going public with our works. If it was all about the words or the music or the paint – maaaaaan – then we’d keep it private, but we want that connection to others.

    I’ve always believed in the expression ‘trust the tale not the teller’, with the implication that someone else may understand your work better than you do. Whilst this may go against all those who are precious about their chosen art form, I don’t think you can simply eliminate those who are going to absorb and interpret what you have created because of snobbery or elitism. People will see, or read, or hear what they want to based on what you have started. And it is foolish to deny them this.

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