Thursday, July 19, 2012

Great artists cultivate a sense of unending possibility

I routinely have interactions like this with authors:

AK: This thing you did on page 201 is such a great echo of this other thing you did on page 107. It pulls things together nicely. Great connection.

Author: I wish I could take credit for doing that on purpose.

AK: It doesn’t matter. You did it. You made me susceptible to the connection.

The magic of telling stories on a big scale—books, movies, TV shows—is the connection-making momentum you create in readers’/viewers’ minds. In other words, the creator alters the consumer's mind to such an extent that the consumer is infinitely susceptible to making connections. To a large extent, I believe the accomplishment of a great artist is not so much the connections themselves in a work, but the momentum the work generates in the reader to make them. (Do I have to say I consider this a blissful state of being?)

Nabokov would, of course, be my favorite example of this phenomenon, but I suspect the Internet’s favorite example (and I’m a fan too) is Stanley Kubrick. Read this and the comments now. DO NOT skip the comments. I’ll wait.

(And keep in mind this is but one of many, many examples of this sort of Shining scholarship.)

The author of the piece is not an idiot, but the commenters aren’t really wrong either (they’re just boring). And that’s Kubrick’s genius; it’s the genius of many great artists: cultivating the sense of unending possibility. Consumers do not dive this deeply into insignificant art—into art where they don’t believe anything is possible. The commenters who accuse the author of the piece of wasting his time are missing the point of art. The pearls John Fell Ryan surfaces with after his dive into The Shining may be mere “continuity errors” but that simply doesn’t matter. Once you’re open to the slightest  possibility that they aren’t coincidence, the work of art has reached another plateau. The pleasure was, after all, in the dive, not in the surfacing (and pleasure is what matters in art, not being right).