Rental Cars?

When I write something new and share it with a friend they respond with: “Well, what I think it means is…” I…don’t…recall asking for an interpretation. I just wanted to ascertain the impression my particular brand of art left. It seems almost inappropriate to ask someone to make a guess at my intended meaning.

See, art is like a rental car.

Rental cars don’t belong to the individual. Still, no one will tell you where to drive it. They don’t even tell you how far you can drive it. Just have the tank full upon return!

Rental Car
Image courtesy of William Stern

I arrived at this conclusion when I sat down and took a good long look (and it took a good long while too) at a piece by James Tate:

The Trap

Inside the old chair
I found another chair;
though smaller, I liked
sitting in it better.
Inside that chair
I found another chair;
though smaller, in
many ways I felt
good sitting in it.
Inside that chair
I found another chair;
it was smaller and
seemed to be made
just for me.
Inside that chair,
still another;
it was very small,
so small I could
hardly get out of it.
Inside that chair
I found yet another;
and in that another, until
I was sitting in
a chair so small
it would be difficult
to say I was sitting
in a chair at all.
I could not rise
or fall, and no one
could catch me.

I sat down and pulled this piece apart trying to decipher his intentions. But without having Tate around to ask, success was a far guess. I threw my thinking into reverse and just took off in my own direction. “The Trap” became personal. I felt something of myself in his words.

Don’t you see art in the same way? Someone pulls up to you with their piece and they say: “take it for a spin.” They don’t tell you what the destination should be (usually). It’s on you, the consumer, to determine where the piece will take you.  There are occasions when this process ends up being a carpool commute, you and the artists happen to end up on the same line of thinking. You may just end up cruising down the 101 while the artist may have had the 5 in mind when they conceived the piece. It doesn’t matter…or I don’t think it should.

As a writer, I want my work to take the audience on a personal trip. Since life is pretty personal, so should the interpretation of art. If everyone got the same thing out of my writing then it would be a commercial.

You can take the piece (the painting, the poem, the music) where ever you want to go, like any rental car. And even though it does not belong to you, you’ll never forget where you went with it. That will always belong to you.


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