Art without Explanation

I’m curious to know how people feel about this, so I want to take an informal poll. Here are my questions. Answer some or all of them:

  • How do you feel when an artist writes a song and you don’t understand what the lyrics mean?
  • How would you feel if you heard the creator of a song you like claim that the song’s lyrics didn’t really have any meaning at all?
  • How would you feel if someone you knew wrote a song, but refused to explain the lyrics to you, or tell you for certain what the song meant?

Just curious to get your answers on those questions.

9 thoughts on “Art without Explanation

  1. 1.) I feel like the lyrics are too complicated/deep for me to understand.

    2.) I would feel confused. Why write words to a song that don’t mean anything?

    3.) I would feel like they didn’t want to share because it’s personal or something.

  2. 1) I play the song again.

    2) I understand that the interpretation of a musical composition is a subjective as that of any other artistic endeavor.

    3) I would thank them for not influencing my personal “meaning-making” of the work.

  3. 1) I listen to the song until I have some understanding of the lyrics. Especially if I know the band is capable of good songs, I’ll put in extra effort to do so. If I ever get to the point where I think they were being confusing for no purpose, I suppose I’d get annoyed: doesn’t happen much though.

    2) Depends: if it’s a JT or other pop singer, and they say that, big deal. If Bono were to say that about just any U2 song (and the odds of that aren’t good), then I’d be annoyed.

    3) As an artist myself I think I’d understand if someone refused to give a clear cut explanation. I’ll often say when somebody is off base, but I prefer to let people interpret as they wish. As I said, if they’re not off base, then I’d rather they got to the idea on their own without me making them think only one way because I said so.

  4. 1. I feel like I just haven’t taken the time to really take it in. Maybe I’ll assume it’s meant to be a nonsense song. Or, I’ll just sing the fun parts and mumble over the parts I don’t know or get (like in a Jewel song where she says, “When you’re standing in deep water and you wake up making love to a wall.” What the heck?).

    2. As long as it sounds cool, I’m fine. They might have intended for it to have no meaning…that doesn’t mean I can’t personally get anything out of it.

    3. Again, doesn’t really bother me. As Neal said, I would hope that they’d be willing to steer me in the right direction. I’ve sat in enough art critiques to know that not everyone wants to share what their art means, and that not everyone knows what their art means. Sometimes it’s an inner expression that doesn’t make sense for years or ever. I think it’s part of understanding the human psyche–we don’t have all the answers right away.

  5. Sometimes I’d say an artist doesn’t even know perfectly for sure what something means, or they deliberately put in a variety of themes. If asked to explain them, they don’t want to. I’m trying to think of a good analogy.

    You could give them a fish (what it means) or let them enjoy it by teaching them to fish (reading, watching, etc. on their own and coming up with their own determination).

  6. 1) This has never happened to me. So I don’t really know. 🙂 Actually, wait, I don’t know what Ben Kweller means when he sings “Sha Sha, Sha Doo.”
    2) I don’t believe any sequence of words can be entirely meaningless. (And I’ve tried and failed at writing such things). I don’t terribly care if a songwriter didn’t “intend” to mean anything.
    3) In as much as I am a writer I much prefer not attempting to explain what something I wrote means. Basically what it means is inseperable from the process of reading/hearing it…thus if I could explain it another way, I would just do that and forget whatever it was I put together first. I project the same sentiment onto all other artists.

  7. – The quality of the music plays a role in how I feel. If it’s groovy music with a good back beat baby, then I assume they were high and it may have at one time made sense. If it’s your standard run-of-the-mill pop song I can sometimes appreciate the aesthetic of the words, but I usually am like, “whatever”. If it’s someone like the Barenaked Ladies or something I usually feel like I need to listen again or read the lyrics by themselves.
    -At least they’d admit it and not try to take credit for meaning they didn’t intend. IF I got something out of it, I guess it wouldn’t stop me from listening. My view of the song/lyrics wouldn’t change, but my view of the artist might.
    – That’s up to them. I wouldn’t care. Depending on the person I might not even want to know what they intended. Might ruin it for me, like with Rufus Wainwright(not that he told me personally, but finding out what his lifestyle is skewed the imagery he had created to something I don’t want to think about. Oh yes, tainted love.)

  8. funny that I came accross this, I’m in the process of writing a paper on art without meaning. Is it really possible that even in the most mundane of images, or words, or sounds, that there is lack of any meaning whatsoever. other than the fact that it was created simply to exist, and be enjoyed as it is, without drawing parallels to any other form of the arts? Or is that in the end the very meaning that we deny?

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