Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Who Owns the Art

When you write a script, it ceases to belong to you as soon as you hand it over to the director and actors. This is fact, and it's a fact that is very, very clear. The only things you control are the words the actors say. To some small extent you control the commas as well. You tell an actor, this is where I want you to pause, by putting in a comma. But even that can be taken away. The director and actors own the script in rehearsal, and the actors own it in performance.

This is a very good thing. It doesn't feel like it at first. You write a script, you give it to people to read out loud, and when they do, you think, this doesn't sound like it sounds in my head, so therefore it's wrong. But you in fact are wrong. You don't get to see it until the performance. Then you say, oh my God, so THAT'S what that can mean. THAT's what I was writing about, this is how it is. 

And then when the actors perform it they hand it over to the audience. The audience feels and thinks, and maybe it's not what the actors wanted them to feel and think. Or maybe it's not what the director wanted them to feel and think, and then it's at three steps removed from what the writer thought they should think. 

And this is good too. It's all come full circle. You thought something up and shared it and got some other people to put stuff in it, and then they shared it, and other people saw it and heard it and connected it to their own experiences and filtered it and hopefully, enjoyed it, learned from it, grew from it. 

The same transfer of ownership happens when you write a short story, poem, essay or novel. You only own it when it's in your hot little hands. As soon as someone else reads it, it belongs to them. It's not as easy to see as the script to actor to audience transfer, but it's the same thing. The reader reads your words and fills in the gaps with their imagination, which is colored by their experience. 

Which is why it pisses me off when writers who get critiqued adamantly defend their work and tell the readers why they are wrong. The readers are never wrong. You may not like it, but you have to accept it. You do not get to dictate how a reader SHOULD receive your work. You can only write and let the reader read. If you don't like what they got from it, you can go back to the work and try again. THAT'S IT.

9 Comments:

Blogger atomic cate said...

i guess you went to writer’s group last night.

it is the same in every art. you convey, but it is up to the audience to interpret. Suzanne Vega was once being pestered on what a particular song was “about.” she replied ”it’s about whatever you think it’s about.” she wrote lyrics with a story in mind, but knew each and every person would come to those words with their own history and thought.

side note, this is why i feel IP is teetering on a dangerous ledge with the dictatorial control of derivative works.

6:56 AM  
Blogger walkinhomefromthethriftstore said...

I did, and it's the first time I've had problems with writers rather than critique-ers. Two out of four authors were arguing as to why the group comments were wrong. It was weird.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Mrs Pinchloaf said...

This is a really interesting point and one that I must admit I've never considered.

I think you're right, and I think this should be put on a handout and given to every aspiring artist of every genre. But then what they get from it is their interpretation, right?

5:49 AM  
Blogger walkinhomefromthethriftstore said...

Yeah, totes.

I was talking to my mom about it, and of course she was all devil's advocate and implied that it's ok for creators to argue with their audience about their work. But I think she was just trying to wind me up.

6:00 AM  
Blogger Mrs Pinchloaf said...

It's okay for creators to argue about their work, but like you said, it doesn't change the fact that it's ultimately up to the audience as far as what they take away from it. I think your mom was just trying to yank your chain.

6:04 AM  
Blogger atomic cate said...

psh, your mom’s such a jerk.

i think it’s ok to disagree with your audience, but you have to LISTEN to them first. less argument, more discussion, maybe?

and yeah, a lot of artists get disgusted when their audience doesn’t get it. but then, a lot of artists are self-involved d*****bags.

6:05 AM  
Blogger walkinhomefromthethriftstore said...

So, I guess I can never show my mom this blog, since we're all accusing my mom of being a jerk. Dear mom, in case you ever see this blog, we don't really think you're a jerk. We love you mom!

6:26 AM  
Blogger atomic cate said...

no, i really think she's a jerk.

hahaha no just kidding, groodmom! you're a totally awesome intellectual mom with a sense of humour! ...right?

i may never be invited to chez grood again.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Mrs Pinchloaf said...

Hey, I never said she was a jerk. Just that she was yanking your chain. Big difference!

12:53 PM  

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