Should a Creator Ever Explain their Work?

This is admittedly partly due to self-interest, but I'm broadening the topic for wider discussion.

So, there's various works in fiction that have a theme/point to them, or if they don't, certain levels of interpretation towards them. There's so many works that it would be redundant to list them all, and I'm sure that if any of you did English/literature/insert equivalent here in school, you were given assigned texts to read/watch and analyze. Thing is though, at some point, whether it be you or someone else, someone probably got the theme "wrong," so to speak. There's actually a story I recall about a writer coming in to a school to discuss his book, and as the students spoke, he realized that they had come to the 'wrong' conclusions from the work. Or another story, where a child got into an argument with a teacher over the meaning of a book, before pointing out he was the author's son, so yes, he WAS in a position to say what the "correct" meaning was.

This partly touches on the concept of death of the author, but I'm focusing more on the question at hand. Not whether there's a "correct" way to interpret a piece of fiction, but rather if an author/director/whoever should ever spell out the true intent of their work. There's examples of them refusing to do so (e.g. Kubrick with 2001), and examples of them being eager to do so (e.g. Cameron with Avatar, who made my interpretation of the work 'wrong' for instance). Like, I imagine that Aldous Huxley would be distressed if someone saw Brave New World as an endorsement of the World State rather than a criticism of it, but if someone did see it that way, can they be looking at it wrong, or is their interpretation valid?

Which does admittedly bring me to the personal issue, in that I've just got through a series of reviews for stuff I've written, and in regards to the intended 'theme' behind one of them, comments in the review made it clear that the reviewer had come to a different conclusion from what I'd intended. And that isn't the first time that's happened. I admittedly said in the response (paraphrased) "you're wrong, but it's up to you how to interpret it," but is that having my cake and eating it?

So, TL, DR, look at the tile, and give your answers. Again, this isn't so much discussing the concepts of authoratorial intent vs. death of the author, it's the concept of whether a living author should ever spell out a "true meaning" for a work.

Yes, an author should explain his work whenever he wishes to do so. If he wants to communicate something and id misunderstood, why not clarify ? Most just want to talk about their work and relate to their audience and that is not a bad thing either.

Wait. People thought Huxley wanted Brave New World as their own? Did they even read the book

No obligation, but a lot of the time it'd help. People say "show, don't tell", but if you do tell you don't have to rely on people seeing what you want them to see when you show them something.

Also, Taylor Swift always puts lots of references to things in her lyrics and music videos and refuses to talk about them, I guess so that fans come up with all sorts of weird ideas, but it's annoying.

They're free to, but to me, personally, explaining your work means admitting that you've failed to communicate whatever you've been meaning to communicate with it in the actual work. I mean, you've drawn your painting or wrote your book or made your movie and there it is. Everything to be said about it should be in it.

I guess it's a personal preference thing. Like, if you don't want me personally to see your work as a complete waste of my time (as 2001 was) then yeah, maybe be more clear. I don't have a problem with ambiguous meaning, but the audience should be able to form some idea of what a work is about, even if they're wrong about what exactly it is. Don't just feed us gibberish and leave it at that.

As for your comment, it kind of was having and eating the cake. You need to work out if you want the audience to arrive at your theme or not. If you do, then you haven't written it clearly enough. If you don't, then you can't blame an audience for seeing it differently.

Why not? The thing about creating your work is that there's a lot going on behind the scenes that will never see the light of day in the work itself. I was once given a piece of writing advice. "For every page of a book, you should have five pages of notes." I think that's overkill, but there's a lot of tiny pieces that go into making up a work that you won't be able to get across in the work without making things grind to a halt.

So what the heck not? Half the time when creators do this it's more fun trivia than anything else, and it's interesting to hear exactly what was going through their heads.

Sure, if they want to. That doesn't mean they should try to lay claim over a work's true meaning though. I mean, they're allowed to do that, but I would assume as a creator you want the people consuming your work to think about it themselves and not to simply echo your thoughts.

I'd sure like to ask God a few questions about things like those worms that eat peoples feet.

Oh you meant fiction, Yeah I like it to hear what they were thinking. Sometimes it might be dissapointing to find out they didn't mean what you thought but I think for hardcore fans it's nice to be able to suck up every detail.

trunkage:
Wait. People thought Huxley wanted Brave New World as their own? Did they even read the book

Using that as a hypothetical.

Explain, unless a terrible misunderstanding has taken place, not really. Discuss on the other hand, sure. Discuss and debate for all time.

Just my thoughts... but you know, if the explanation is somehow part of the artwork? Then, sure.

If it's anything else aside from art, then an explanation or some sort of clarity of meaning, of purpose, would seem to be mandatory? For example, illustration that does not lead to a relatively objective clarity, at least in the most immediate sense, is not illustrative by nature. A story that has an image rendered from the material therein would be a good example of clear meaning. But for 'art', the piece should either stand on it's own as the message, purposefully subvert the most likely message (or otherwise challenge/ reinterpret the most likely message in some way), or allow the viewer to imprint their own meaning to the piece by being subjective (having few cues to any objective meaning, abstract art, or otherwise removed from definitive context).

Again, just my thoughts.

EDIT: Totally, totally just read the title of the post, and saw my own meaning in the subject, without reading the explanation. I have just read the explanation.

...

irony? r/woooosh? More likely, I'm just dumb

PsychedelicDiamond:
They're free to, but to me, personally, explaining your work means admitting that you've failed to communicate whatever you've been meaning to communicate with it in the actual work.

Don't think I agree there. Some of the greatest literature is, to put it mildly, exceedingly complex (take Joyce as an example).

Approaching it as you would a thriller or 'lite' fiction is not going to work. It almost requires meticulous analysis. And there's nothing wrong with guidance on that-- that's what literature lecturers and professors do.

Joyce didn't fail just because most readers would require guidance in order to get the most out of the book, and the book would have suffered were it simplified.

To be honest, when I make an illustration and I show it to someone else, I always find it slightly disappointing if the viewer doesn't understand what's happening in the scene. I feel I've failed to properly communicate. It's amazing when a child, who is too young to read can look through a book and understand the story from the pictures alone. That's the point of illustration though, to tell a story through a single or series of images.

With more surreal or conceptual pieces, the interpretations people give can be waaayy out there and sometimes that's a beautiful thing, since it encourages me to look more critically at my own work or view it in a new light.

Should they? That depends on how interested the author is in people knowing the intended meaning correctly. At the end, whose fault is it when they don't? Is it the author's fault for not communicating correctly the intended meaning through their work alone? Or the audience for not grasping the signals guiding them to the intended meaning? Again, it depends.

All this reminds me of a video about authorial intent and meaning by using The Beginners Guide and the ending of The Sopranos.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4N6y6LEwsKc

A phrase from it that stuck with me is "a good narrator is like a dancer who knows how to lead".

Yes, because the background of a piece can change different colored squiggles into the feelings and emotions of a child stuck in a concentration camp and be a method of expressing them that they probably don't have words for.

Sure, they can explain their work if they want to. Perhaps people will be encouraged to view their work in a new light afterwards, maybe catch things they missed the first time

PsychedelicDiamond:
They're free to, but to me, personally, explaining your work means admitting that you've failed to communicate whatever you've been meaning to communicate with it in the actual work. I mean, you've drawn your painting or wrote your book or made your movie and there it is. Everything to be said about it should be in it.

I think you have to accept that some people are extremely thick.

They shouldn't be required to, but they do reserve the right to call other interpretations to simply be wrong.

On the one hand, a Death of the Author has made certain stories resonate in ways the author didn't predict but which still have value. Fahrenheit 451 isn't about authoritarian censorship, according to Bradbury, and Lord of the Rings doesn't have any political commentary at all according to Tolkien, but c'mon.

Meanwhile, I live to see stuff like Alan Moore's opinions of people that idolize Rorschach.

altnameJag:
...Fahrenheit 451 isn't about authoritarian censorship...

Well, it is, it's just not about state censorship, mixed with "banality of evil" themes vis-a-vis the outbreak of World War III and all. Which is something that seriously pissed me off about that godawful HBO adaption.

I'd add Starship Troopers (the novel), Clockwork Orange, and The Jungle to the list, too.

Personally I only ever want to hear it later, and even then only as an exercise in analyzing my own view of the work vs what the author thought - did I read them right, did I see enough implied context to dig into them as a person, or are there things going on that I just don't know about. Its always interesting to know how understanding vs intent shakes out, but ultimately the reality of how our world works means your only ever going to be 'close' and the internal understanding a person develops is always more valuable than the external dictation provided by others.

The easy example is americans reading europian literature. This isn't meant to trash on americans, its just easy since american culture is hard to dodge in the english speaking world, and therefore american analysis of other cultural works is just as hard to dodge. When you read one of those analysies and then you compare it against an analysis that shares a culture with the author, there's always going to be fairly plain differences in how things are taken, just because the context of the person reading is going to colour the analysis. On one hand you could say the american is just wrong - they started from the wrong point and got to the wrong end. On the other hand, and what I feel is more interesting, is that the starting point and by extension the ending point, says a huge amount about the person reading and what they're looking for. The author could dictate what they were going for, but that dictation is less interesting and less meaningful than taking a closer look at what lead to the difference.

The most interesting thing I ever came across with respect to how people interact with media is the phrase "If you're seeing it (reading/listening/consuming) then it's for you". More so than ever in a world where google suggests news articles to you based on what you've been reading. So we have a person who was lead to a piece of media that isn't from where they're from, who then consumes it and produces an opinion based on their own context. So you get three competing aspects - the system that helped you find this thing, what you've got going on inside, and the context of the world you're experiencing this stuff in. And from that farts out an opinion. Tolkien got brought up above here so consider this: start by assuming the readers are honest and the author is honest. That means that the context, internal workings and intent of the author was such that political commentary was completely not part of their goal and therefore the statement that they were making a commentary on it seems crazy. But at the exact same time, the context and internal workings of the reader who was lead to consume this media was such that the only conclusion was that there must be political commentary present. Isn't that wild?

They can, but I don't think it's really all that valuable in all cases, especially if a significant amount of time has passed. Human memory is not perfect and a person's interpretation of something can drift over time. There have certainly been occasions that I've looked back at something I've done years later and wondered what the heck I was thinking at the time.

PsychedelicDiamond:
They're free to, but to me, personally, explaining your work means admitting that you've failed to communicate whatever you've been meaning to communicate with it in the actual work. I mean, you've drawn your painting or wrote your book or made your movie and there it is. Everything to be said about it should be in it.

These are my thoughts as well.

Eclipse Dragon:
Snip

Wow, speaking of death of the author, look at this account raised from the dead after 2 years!

Silentpony:
They shouldn't be required to, but they do reserve the right to call other interpretations to simply be wrong.

Agreed, as long as it works both ways. For example, if a certain video game director claims that his game, which contains blatant references to slavery and the Holocaust, isn't "political", the audience should have right to call bullshit.

MrCalavera:

Silentpony:
They shouldn't be required to, but they do reserve the right to call other interpretations to simply be wrong.

Agreed, as long as it works both ways. For example, if a certain video game director claims that his game, which contains blatant references to slavery and the Holocaust, isn't "political", the audience should have right to call bullshit.

For sure absolutely. If there is like Holocaust or Trump shit or whatever, then a political statement is being made - what statement can be up for debate, but a statement none-the-less.

Likewise it'd be bullshit for someone to say...PacMan is actually a metaphor for the African Gay culture of 1950s Detroit between Cass Avenue and SST Fashion over off Gariot at Arndt Street on every other Wednesday. And that the cherries obviously represent ontological empiricism

They can if they want to, sure. But I don't see many reasons why thy would, or at least why I would if I had created something worth reading. Seeing stupid people interpret it wrong and laughing at them from my obviously superior place of intelligence would have been half the reason why I wrote said thing in the first place.

It's not necessary but understandable if they do. A lot of people, sometimes most, seem to only engage in a surface level observation of any work. So when subtle elements go unnoticed, it can lead to frustration when focusing on those sizable groups, which in turn can lead to the creator thinking maybe it's best to throw more information out there. Depends on how they do it I spose. I try to account for the varying levels of focus in my own faff; make sure the surface level is enough to appeal on its own, but commit to an array of subtle details for those wanting to look closer or longer for more information. Problem is gauging how close people are able to look in comparison to one's own creating eye. Am pretty sure most the shit I put in doesn't get seen at all, but that's fine, I'd prefer that than feeling cheap and lazy. Depends on the audience and intentions of the creator alongside quality of work.

Eclipse Dragon:
To be honest, when I make an illustration and I show it to someone else, I always find it slightly disappointing if the viewer doesn't understand what's happening in the scene. I feel I've failed to properly communicate. It's amazing when a child, who is too young to read can look through a book and understand the story from the pictures alone. That's the point of illustration though, to tell a story through a single or series of images.

With more surreal or conceptual pieces, the interpretations people give can be waaayy out there and sometimes that's a beautiful thing, since it encourages me to look more critically at my own work or view it in a new light.

I don't think there should be any stigma against it. Generally it's true that if the audience doesn't "get it" that's a failure of the creator to communicate their intended meaning, but even with a well done work explanations can be helpful for those who miss the meaning for one reason or another. I personally like them because they can make certain elements jump out more that I may not have noticed which can lead me to a greater appreciation of the work.

On the other hand, I really like seeing multiple different interpretations and theories on a work and those can sometimes be stifled when there is a definitive "correct" meaning of the work. Even if they are "wrong" those other interpretations can be incredibly interesting lenses to view the work through. I'd hate for those other points of view to not be developed because one can just point to the official explanation. One of the big things that separates good and bad teachers of literary analysis is whether their students are evaluated based on how close their conclusions are to "correct" one or on how well they justify and evidence their conclusions no matter how far from the creator's intentions they may be.

 

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