The comedian Bill Burr makes a point about perspective, about connection . He tells a joke, at first it seems about not being able to go home, then about racism, then about perspective , but ultimately about who is in charge of the missing the point. He should become a choreographer.
In the joke a liberal returns home to visit his racist family that he loves but with whom has little in common . While there, a family member complains about - a “Nigger” falling asleep while working a fork lift. Burr is upset by the comment and later brings it up to a more progressive cousin that maybe, could, might understand his consternation; but the cousin says “A nigger fell Asleep at a fork lift? ” frustrated, Burr returns home and brings it up to his multi racial writing group and a comedian in the group says - that’s the kind of nigger that gives ‘US” a bad name - and finally someone else in the group says - “Who falls asleep on a fork lift?”.
Pick an offense but please also take the point that is repeatedly missed, not absent. Intent can carry so much but can’t deliver everything to everyone; obviously Art has the same problem. Burrs mistake is that he settled for a decent joke, a better story, but shared the point and insight with the wrong Audience; one that was ready to hear it. He should have shared it with his family.
The bridge from intent to understanding is and is not overburdened because Burr’s telling of the story/joke is really about no-one getting - not only the original offense - or the perspective of all parties, but his own misunderstanding of who he is talking to and about; The driver, the tired driver, the black man, the storyteller or the listeners in their many aspects all share the burden. The joke works because we are able to place our point of view outside it and stare at its various centers. The story works because the structure of it enables us to see the shifting perspective. The whole thing works because it is ridiculous. I mean who would trust a black man on a piece of heavy equipment (smile that was a joke). The joke is flexible enough to be about more than one thing. The joke is about perspective not just interpretation. My point is art or ideas can be nothing other than what they are, from where they are seen, but it’s a mistake to say they are only what they are. Perspective and point of view provide the leverage that moves what we know into the realm of discernment.
The lever that moves us into realms of discernment is thrown by communal reference, qualified assent and the line in the sand drawn by the artist . I see what I see, you see what you see but It is most important that we all agree, I as the artist am in charge. Weather forklift or driver, my efforts under the watchful eyes of a responsible inquisitors are subject to criticism not influence. That is the right place to start. Any respectable fascist artist will leave nothing un-harassed, set nothing free, give no ground. The artist captures an emotion, a glance, a work or color, changes it, shoves it into the world, plants it as a solid pity or failing touch, tends to it in odd climates, reap and replant each instance of its cultivated offspring and on in doing this testify to the remarkable unchecked present by keeping track of what escaped whether be meaning or intention.
Circling back, artists need control in order to sieze subjects; control over a subject suggests at the very least consciousness, and that in turn speaks to intent. Interpretation must be acknowledged but managed because it cedes control. Interpretation acts as a bribe validation from the uninvested to the craftsman. That is why the art world has become a cult of interpretation and collaboration filled with democratic gesture. extreme extremes and extreme middle grounds. The escape of responsibility is the lure and it is sweet as shit! Accepting validation from someone else leads us away from clarity in the work. Artists self medicate after failure with the drug of interpretation. Fear of failure fucks with your compass, makes us back away from artistic responsibility, loose our way, it unroots us. The artist must always be at the center of meaning.
Now, all works/jokes/narratives… are imperfectly built empires of ruin that begin to decay at first glance; ideas climb over the walls, scuttle through cracks in their foundations, assault the defenses and though like Timbuktu works of art/creation survive, when gawked from the vantage of those patronizing seers (the audience), those empires, by the alchemies of construal are forever changed by the seer’s acquisition. Get used to it, but stick as close as you can to what you make. Insist on your intention, allow interpretation only as long as it is attached to your roots .
Do not turn over the keys to the kingdom.
Art works are lousy supporters of lies, they misdirect, counter arguments or tell the truth without saying a word, their strength is in their frankness, no matter how indirect. Culture is the consensus act of collective experience occurring over and over. Art even when made communally is not consensus. All artifacts reveal a point of view driven by an idea and ideas come from individuals ( even when filtered through other minds). That is why interpretation goes only so far. If we think of consensus as a tree fed reciprocally from root to leaf through the trunk, with all the parts working together, it is not the tree we need to be concerned with, it is the seed, the thought that broke ground not the parts of the tree.
So do not turn over the keys to the kingdom, uproot your sapling, or give in.
For God’s sake stand on your ground, create your own world of meaning, be clear, you’ll need to be ready when the haters/interpreters show up; you’ll need to know enough to prove yourself right, not about myopic interpitaions, but instead how and where others have gotten you wrong. Remember your ideas are based in considered predilections , not other’s insertions, assertions or any other kind of tion reasonable or not. Precision in the joust comes about because you’ve done the heavy lifting, put on your armor, noted the weak points, mounted your steed, sniffed deeply and charged, your horses-hit detecter tuned to you, critics and audience. Armed with the knowledge of a relevant missed point, the missed unintended point will not shift or erase your mark . So Get to work. Force yourself into some unescapable artistic corner or paint yourself onto some impossibly large trapdoor, or unbreachable Trickbag. Try everything. If that doesn't work try everything you know on everything you know. Use any method possible to pick up any dropped thread; Discipline helps, but obsessive compulsion is better; when possible understand what you’re interested; be doctrinaire, pin your ideas and pull their wings. All of you do because circumstance may bend your idea to the viewers will if you ( the creator ) are not both a fascist and rebel. And lastly of course I must say (because we live in the time we do) reverse all of this because you are only free if you are week enough to accept someone else’s definition of you.