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How You Can Take Advantage of Art’s Subjectivity


Anyone who doubts the subjective nature of art need look for persuasion no
farther than Amazon’s review pages. For instance, Stephen R. Lawhead’s Hood
received opinions varying from the effusive “Lawhead at his best” and “rip-
roaring good story” to the insistent “no real plot, resolution, or drama” and
“slow, uninspired and pointless.” How could the same piece of writing inspire
such wildly differing reactions? You have to wonder if these reviewers were
even reading the same book!

For better or worse, art (like life) is subjective. Not one of us looks at a story, a
painting, a movie, or a concert in the same way. We each see the same
structure; we each read the same words; but we all take something individual,
and therefore indefinably precious, away from the encounter. Experiencing art is
like watching clouds. Two people can lie on the same grassy hill, watching the
same cloud formations. But how they interpret the shapes of the clouds is an
entirely individual experience. You may see a poodle on a leash, while in the
same cloud, I see a drag race.

Part of the magic of the artistic experience is its endless evolution. It is never
static. Even once the writer has put the final touch on his piece, it continues to
live and morph and grow through the experiences of the reader. When we hand
our writing over to others, we’re unavoidably surrendering our control over it.
We can’t sit at the reader’s shoulder and dictate how he envisions our
characters or how he reacts to the themes. If we could, it would largely defeat
the point of art, not to mention the enjoyment.
Subjectivity is sometimes a hard notion to accept. Because we’re limited by our
own visions of the world, it isn’t automatic for us to realize that other visions
are not only out there but, in fact, they are everywhere. It’s a natural human
reaction for us to suppose that our own reactions and beliefs should be shared
by everyone. As a result, it can sometimes be quite a shock to realize that
everyone isn’t going to view our writing the same way we do.

Despite its universalism, this is a truth that few of us manage to grasp right off.
However, it’s very important that we do grasp it. Until we do, we’ll never be
able to take advantage of it.

Once we embrace the subjectivity of art, we can:

* Accept that the painful rejection of our work by some of our


readers is inevitable and even warranted, given the wide range of
personalities who will read it.

* Realize that bad reviews aren’t necessarily reflective on the


quality of our work. Everyone and his mother’s uncle is entitled to
his opinion. And no two people’s opinions are going to be exactly
alike. If one person adores your work, then you can expect that
someone else will hate it with equal fervency. Your work can’t speak
to everyone. The sooner we accept this fact, the easier it will be to
brush away the sting of negativity.

* Open our eyes to the fact that differing opinions give us the
opportunity to widen our scope and deepen our work. Occasionally
(and sometimes more than occasionally) your negative reviewers
may just have a point or two. If you can handle the negativity, you
may just gain more from reading your bad reviews than you do
from your good reviews. The varying vantage points of other people
can help you see yourself, your writing, and your flaws more clearly.

* Embrace the wide variety of humanity. If everyone in the world


shared our opinions down to the last dot, it would be a ridiculously
dull place. Despite the drawbacks and occasional nicks of pride,
subjectivity, at its very heart, is the only reason art is worth
pursuing. It allows us all a broader canvas on which to paint,
experiment, fail, and succeed.
About the Author: K.M. Weiland grew up
chasing Billy the Kid and Jesse James on
horseback through the sand hills of western
Nebraska, where she still lives. A lifelong
fan of history and the power of the written
word, she enjoys sharing both through her
many fictional stories and her novel, A Man
Called Outlaw. Visit her blog "Wordplay" to
read her take on the writing life.

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