“I could do that. Even a BABY could do that!”

What makes art art?

Who gets to decide?

I’m sure many of us have experienced that moment in an art gallery when we are so bemused by a piece of art that we react as skeptically as the title of this blog post: I could do that. To which our inner voice might reply: But you didn’t. 

How much of art’s success lies in talent? Timing? Luck?

Does public appreciation elevate our work, or diminish it? Some artists would kill to be recognized in prominent art galleries worldwide, while others might be more commercially motivated and hope to make a living on their art. Still others might be repulsed by the notion that everyday people might appreciate their creations en masse outside of a venerated space like an art gallery.

When I was in London this past May, I had the privilege of seeing a play about one such artist, Mark Rothko.

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Alfred Molina, left, and Alfred Enoch, right, star in Red at Wyndham’s Theatre in London. Photo: Evening Standard

The play, Red, stars Alfred Molina (of Indiana Jones and Spiderman 2 fame, among more “artistic” films) and Alfie Enoch (Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter films; How to Get Away with Murder). Molina plays Rothko, the American painter who was known for his large red abstract paintings. Enoch plays his assistant, Ken, who, in contrast to his counterpart, praises the emergence of pop art from artists such as Andy Warhol.

Rothko rose to prominence during the abstract expressionism movement in the 1950s and 60s. Set in the twilight of this era, Red follows Rothko’s internal conflict after agreeing to paint commissioned works to hang in the Four Seasons restaurant, placing his art in a setting that he ultimately feels is pretentious and inappropriate. He must therefore choose between commercial success and his artistic ideals, causing tension in his understanding of his identity as an artist.

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Molina as Rothko and Enoch as Ken. Photo: The Telegraph

The 90-minute play raises an excellent dialogue on what constitutes art, what kind of recognition art merits, and who gets to truly define how we consume art.

This is where Alfie Enoch’s character shines – he starts as an unassuming apprentice, but by the middle of the play he’s firing off rebuttals against Rothko’s resistance to mainstream consumption of art.

Regardless of what you think about where art belongs, Red emphasizes the disparity from person to person. I might think that the pinnacle of artistic success is landing a coveted place in the halls of the Louvre, for instance, but someone else might think it a truer success to see their work all over town, enjoyed by more people and more frequently (like Banksy, for instance). There are unspoken hierarchies and beliefs about modern street art vs. the timelessness of being validated by art institutions.

And what makes art good, anyway? We’ve tossed around this idea for decades; centuries, even. Molina and Enoch discuss the issue too, but their characters’ disagreements in the play prove to us that the answer is difficult: I love classical art, particularly realism and/or landscapes, others love abstract art, others may not “get” contemporary art or consider it art at all, and so on.

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Outside Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End. Photo: Serena Ypelaar

In an effort to avert conflict, I’m tempted to say we should all just get along and like what we like, but it’s not as simple as that. The fact is that artworks’ supposed value (both from an artistic and commercial standpoint) has a very real bearing on institutions’ collections policies. Galleries have to decide what’s worth collecting, and curators base their acquisitions on research, market value, context, and more.

I don’t really specialize in that area of museum work, but I do know from my degree that an institution’s collections, and its acquisition decisions, deliberately reflect its collecting practice. Consider that the next time you think, I could do this – but don’t stop thinking that. The decision is yours to make. Whether or not you consider a work a piece of “art”, the fact that you decided by looking at the art and using your own critical perception is comfort enough for me.

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The Backbone of A Good Biopic

Biopics: we see them every year, covering all kinds of notable individuals and their lives. Put simply, a biopic is a film that interprets a person’s life and condenses it into a consumable feature-length story.

The biopic is a tool of remembrance which, done ethically, has the power to record and preserve the achievements of someone’s life.

We’ll be talking about biopics a lot in this column, but what makes a biopic successful? Here are three key elements creative teams highlight to execute a good biopic:

1. Uniqueness/Promising Talent/Struggle

The subject of the biopic usually has some kind of trait, talent, or struggle that sets them apart from others. This can come in the form of disability, a gripping dream or obsession, or a special talent. In The King’s Speech (2010), one of my favourite biopics, Bertie (the future King George VI of England and father of Queen Elizabeth II, played by Colin Firth) has a speech impediment, true to life. His speech impediment causes tension when he’s unexpectedly thrust into the role of monarch and must give speeches to the nation during World War II.

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Colin Firth as King George VI and Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth in The King’s Speech (2010) Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In Hidden Figures (2016), we follow Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), black female mathematicians working at NASA during the Cold War. They were trying to use their talents to serve a society that was prejudiced against them – not unlike Benedict Cumberbatch’s Alan Turing, The Imitation Game (2014), who was discriminated against for his homosexuality. By emphasizing their perseverance, filmmakers tell the story of marginalized individuals in a compelling light.

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Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson, Taraji P.  Henson as Katherine Johnson, and Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan in Hidden Figures (2016). Photo: Flickr

2. Emotional Outlook/Relationship with Society 

Perhaps the most central element of a biopic is raw emotion. Loss, heartbreak, poverty, abuse, and any kind of hardship can shape the subject’s emotional state and outlook on life, and these feelings resonate with us in some way or another, if depicted in a way that’s just abstract enough for us to relate to, but still precise in the plot of the movie (and in the greater scheme of the subject’s life).

People’s experiences influence the way in which they view and interact with the world, and we can connect to those feelings. A good biopic will manage to encapsulate a real-life public figure’s inner emotions accurately, while sometimes bending the narrative to foster emotional reactions.

3. Overcoming (or Failing to Overcome) Adversity or Discrimination

In The Theory of Everything (2014) there’s a scene in which physicist Stephen Hawking (played by Eddie Redmayne) slowly stands up, despite being paralyzed in a wheelchair. It’s a scene of his own wishful imagining, of course, but the image is so powerful that it moved me to tears.

When biopics stress the subject’s determination to overcome adversity or pain, they hit upon a commonality between all people: we all struggle with something in life. The intensity of struggle in biopics can often test limits, in a way that’s so dramatic that we are compelled to react and feel.

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Mohandas Gandhi, played by Ben Kingsley, in the multiple-Oscar-winning film Gandhi (1982). Photo: The Telegraph

Similarly, in Gandhi (1982), Mohandas Gandhi (played by Ben Kingsley, oddly) leads India’s non-violent independence movement after being thrown off a whites-only train car in South Africa in 1893, though he had a first-class ticket. The fight against injustice can carry a biopic and ensure it resonates with human empathy.

How can biopics improve? 

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Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, British computer scientist and logician who analyzed the Enigma code during World War II, in The Imitation Game (2014). Photo: Flickr

There are a lot of biopics about white men. If we had even more breadth and diversity in commemorating individuals, we could connect to even more people on a more representative level, and celebrate achievements that may be overlooked due to classism, racism, sexism, or inequality in general.

With the emotional threads I’ve outlined above, many biopics admittedly follow a structural formula – but for a good reason. It helps introduce us to people as human beings and forge connections with them on a personal level.

 

What do you mean, you’ve never judged a book by its cover?

Let’s not lie to ourselves: we’ve all judged books by their covers.

Something about the imagery that first greets us is so immediately evocative that we’re instantly gripped by emotion.

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So many covers to judge. Photo: Serena Ypelaar

Lurid, bright colours and strong graphics? I feel a bit cornered.

Clean minimalism? My mind feels vulnerable, laid bare but curious.

Elegant script on a damask background? I’m intrigued.

We all have our biases when taking in cover art, because stylistically, we know what we do and don’t like. In fact, when I first received Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone at the age of six, I initially consigned it to the shelf because I wasn’t feeling particularly engaged by the cover. We all know how that ended: I was wrong. It turned out to be my favourite book in the world.

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Rereading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Photo: Serena Ypelaar

There’s another dimension to the idea of judging a book by its cover that goes beyond the self, though. Perhaps it’s because reading is such an intimate pastime, but combine it with our inherent fear of judgement and you have an interesting social phenomenon on your hands.

I’m talking, of course, about reading on public transit.

As a commuter who routinely takes the subway downtown, I cover a lot of ground in reading. I’ve always got a book on me, and I’ve stubbornly rebelled against the e-book ever since its introduction. The result is that other people always see what I’m reading.

As one of my two majors, English lit will always own my mind and heart, so I’m naturally obsessed with 1) what others on the subway are reading and 2) what I must look like reading my books.

Maybe it’s self-absorbed and no one else ever does this, but I often wonder what image I convey based on what I’m reading. Every time I reread Harry Potter, I wonder, “what if someone thinks I’m reading this for the first time ever?” When I read YA (young adult) romances, I don’t tend to flaunt them. And when I read Keats, Austen, Shakespeare, or any classic lit, I hold my book proudly, feeling learned but also slightly disgusted with my self-consciousness.

Reading on the subway is a performative art; whether we register it or not, we’re displaying our interests for bored strangers to observe in an almost Sherlockian fashion. If a grungy hipster were to enter the train reading Nicholas Sparks, for instance, I’d admittedly be taken aback. It makes us somewhat uncomfortable to face up to our inward assumptions about people, which are often based solely on how they look and dress; but their choices in literature are arguably more revealing. We can deduce what kind of stories move them, what fascinates them, or how they react to books in question.

Sure, I bet there are people who can’t be bothered with random people’s opinions of them – but there’s got to be a reason I’ve seen so many middle-aged women reading Fifty Shades of Grey on a Kindle, right? My point is, e-readers can sometimes be a strategic choice, providing anonymity in the case of a controversial read.

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“What are you going to read today, Napoleon?” “Whatever I feel like I wanna read. Gosh!”

As much as we can dwell in others’ scrutiny, though, I believe we can use reading on the subway as an act of empowerment: read whatever we feel like reading, spectators be damned. After all, just because someone’s reading a book, doesn’t mean they approve of it. Regardless of what we’re reading, why we’re reading it, and what we think of it, no one will ever know anything about our experience beyond the book cover and our outward expressions. Those are all superficial assessments – so we might as well just enjoy our commute.

“Canadian” is not a genre

I didn’t come up with the title for this post myself – it’s a slogan coined by Dine Alone Records, the Canadian independent record label based here in Toronto.

We can take some pointers from its message, as Canadian art is often dismissed – from literature, to visual arts, to music, and more. It’d be interesting to see what percentage of music in our libraries is Canadian – I’d wager most Canadians have 15% or less. But the fact is that there is so much Canadian music out there – and it’s good. 

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Canadian Indigenous singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie. Photo: Flickr

What is it about being Canadian that automatically garners less attention? We even have poorer-quality versions of American reality TV shows, and a terrible Netflix selection compared to our southern neighbours to show for it.

In our current political climate, feat. a tariff war with the United States (which, let’s be honest, flares up every so often like a chronic wound), why not support Canadian musicians and invest in some local talent?

Here are some concise, but by no means comprehensive, top picks for quintessential Canadian listening. Enjoy my quick recs below.

A Tribe Called Red: Essential Indigenous electronic/hip-hop; mandatory listening. Songs to Start With: “R.E.D.,” “How I Feel”, “Bread & Cheese”

Billy Talent: Political commentary & punk rock all in one. Crisp guitars; crisper lyrics. Songs to Start With: “Try Honesty”, “Devil in a Midnight Mass”, “White Sparrows”

July Talk: Jarring juxtaposition of vocals – guttural/masculine vs. soft/feminine. Songs to Start With: “Headsick”, “Blood + Honey”, “Picturing Love”

Alexisonfire: “The sound of two Catholic high-school girls mid-knife-fight”.* Songs to Start With: “Boiled Frogs”, “Get Fighted”, “Midnight Regulations”

*I can’t describe it any better than they already have…

City and Colour: Mournful lamentations nursed by Dallas Green’s voice. Songs to Start With: “Casey’s Song”, “Waiting…”, “The Lonely Life”

Arkells: Anthemic, buoyant daytime rock with a touch of motown. Songs to Start With: “Where U Goin”, “Cynical Bastards”, “John Lennon”

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Mike DeAngelis and Max Kerman of Hamilton band Arkells, at WayHome Music and Arts Festival 2016. Photo: Flickr

Death From Above: Industrious duo at the junction of bass & drums. Songs to Start With: “All I C is U and Me”, “Crystal Ball”, “Romantic Rights”

Tanya Tagaq: Daring, innovative, and traditional Inuk throat-singing. Songs to Start With: “Uja”, “Sila”, “Retribution”

Mother Mother: Three-layered high-pitched vocals on a base of synth and strings. Songs to Start With: “Ghosting”, “The Stand”, “Infinitesimal”

Sum 41: Sprawling spitfire of classic punk rock with heavyweight choruses. Songs to Start With: “Still Waiting”, “Open Your Eyes”, “With Me”

USS (Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker): Lucid, lively electronica fuelled by lyrical emotion. Songs to Start With: “Damini”, “Vulcan”, “Freakquency”

Arcade Fire: A convergence of 6+ hipsters producing indie rock with accordion and keyboard at the fore. Songs to Start With: “Ready to Start”, “The Suburbs”, “No Cars Go”

Monster Truck: 70s style blues rock backed by organs. Long hair & denim required.   Songs to Start With: “Don’t Tell Me How to Live”, “Old Train”, “For the People”

Hollerado: Personable indie rock with a genuine sound and hard-hitting beats. Songs to Start With: “Too Much to Handle”, “So It Goes”, “Got to Lose”

Drake: No description needed for Toronto’s resident rapper… Songs to Start With: “Passionfruit”, “Over”, “God’s Plan”

Our Lady Peace: Low, crooning vocals replete with reassuring lyrics. Songs to Start With: “Innocent”, “All You Did Was Save My Life”, “Angels/Losing/Sleep”

Avril Lavigne: Do I even need to explain this? Songs to Start With: “Complicated”, “Sk8er Boi”, “I’m With You”

Cancer Bats: Gritty underground metal; shredding, cymbal-smashing oblivion. Songs to Start With: “Hail Destroyer”, “Beelzebub”, “Gatekeeper”

Three Days Grace: Bass-heavy garage-rock with brutally honest insights. Songs to Start With: “Just Like You”, “Never Too Late”, “Last to Know”

Sam Roberts Band: Even-paced alternative rock with laid-back guitars. Songs to Start With: “Brother Down”, “Them Kids”, “If You Want It”

Half Moon Run: Serene assertions on the human condition, featuring folksy acoustics. Songs to Start With: “Nerve”, “Trust”, “Narrow Margins”

Wintersleep: Guitars, synth, and experimental riffs with a sprightly rhythm. Songs to Start With: “Lifting Cure”, “Metropolis”, “Santa Fe”

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Alanis Morissette. Photo: Wikimedia

Of course, there are also the Canadian classics, which you might consider revisiting for the long weekend. I’ve created a track-by-track vignette of essential Canadiana:

  • Rush – “YYZ”
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie – “Working for the Government”
  • Bryan Adams – “Summer of ’69”
  • The Guess Who – “American Woman”
  • Gordon Lightfoot – “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”
  • Shania Twain – “Man! I Feel Like A Woman”
  • Alanis Morissette – “Thank U”
  • Sarah McLachlan – “Building A Mystery”
  • Great Big Sea – “The Chemical Worker’s Song”
  • Neil Young – “Heart of Gold”
  • Joni Mitchell – “Big Yellow Taxi”
  • Leonard Cohen – “Treaty”
  • k.d. lang – “Constant Craving”
  • Celine Dion – “My Heart Will Go On”
  • Barenaked Ladies – “Canada Dry”
  • The Tragically Hip – “Bobcaygeon”

Obviously I omitted a bunch of bands/artists, mainly because I don’t listen to them enough to consider myself worthy of making thoughtful recommendations. Other Canadian artists are included below.

Shad, Lights, Anne Murray, The Jerry Cans, Shawn Mendes, Sloan, Tegan and Sara, Michael Buble, Metric, Simple Plan, Young Empires, Joni Mitchell, Nelly Furtado, Bruce Cockburn, Jann Arden, The Trews, Corey Hart, Alessia Cara, Ron Sexsmith, Diana Krall, Stan Rogers, BROS, Feist, The Beaches, Moneen, The Darcys, The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, Said the Whale, Constantines, Marianas Trench, Silverstein, Broken Social Scene, Big Wreck, Nickelback, PUP, Dear Rouge, Blue Rodeo, Hedley, Fucked Up, Toronto, Great Lake Swimmers, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Teenage Head, Down With Webster, Thousand Foot Krutch, Matt Good Band, The Tea Party, The Sheepdogs, Hey Rosetta!, The Elwins, IllScarlett, Prism, I Mother Earth, Black Lungs, Chromeo, Japandroids, Whitehorse, Protest the Hero, The New Pornographers, Joel Plaskett, Northern Voice, Serena Ryder, Lost Cousins, Moist, Neverending White Lights, Platinum Blonde, Stabilo, Saint Asonia, Finger Eleven, Templar, Theory of a Deadman, Wolf Parade, Yukon Blonde, Born Ruffians, Black Bear.

Over the years, so much of Canadian identity has been built on what we’re not (namely, American). Let’s talk about what we are, for a change. It’s something Canadian music does well, if we only listen.

Look at this Art(icle)

In all its abstraction, art somehow manages to reach the deepest parts of us. Art can make us feel understood; it can help us process complex emotions; it can foster empathetic reactions, or merely offer us some beauty to take solace in.

Our fourth and final theme on The Mindful Rambler, “On Art“, will explore how artistic works can give us something to relate to, and how artists achieve resonance through their craft. It’s always astounded me how artists can capture common elements of the human experience to make the viewer/listener/consumer feel that they can relate.

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“A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” (1884), Georges Seurat. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
I shouldn’t generalize, but artists seem to summon something from within them to produce their art – whether it’s about loss, suffering, heartbreak, healing, comfort, or acceptance. Or even just an element of everyday life that they wanted to capture. These depictions offer us the opportunity to connect through shared experiences, despite probably never having met one another.
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Tom Thomson’s “Northern River” (1915) reminds me of camping trips I’ve taken almost every year of my life, and seeing it makes me nostalgic. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

For instance, I’ve never met A.Y. Jackson (of Group of Seven fame) or Tom Thomson because they predeceased me, of course. Their paintings tap into the beauty of the Georgian Bay and the Great Lakes in Ontario. For me, such beautiful portrayals of the Canadian landscape spark countless childhood memories of camping trips in Ontario Parks, bringing up a sense of awe and nostalgia – in short, making me feel something.

I should define art more broadly. This column won’t just talk about paintings, drawings, photographs, sculpture, and other art you’d see in art galleries. When we talk about art, we also mean music, dance, drama, textiles, fashion, and that which is created as a form of self-expression. We can get into the minutiae of high art vs. low art later (a discussion that’ll hopefully contribute to a our interpretive mindfulness) but needless to say, we will discuss all kinds of art here.

What seems like commonplace art that we access daily, such as music, will also make up a significant part of this column – we’ll examine how it can connect to us emotionally, every day. The point of this column is to question our responses, and our desires implicit desires in consuming art. What do we hope to get out of art? How do we react to it? How do we express ourselves in response? Based on our expectations and needs, how do we decide whether we like a piece of art or not?

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Kader Attia’s “J’accuse” (2016), on display at the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto, Canada. How do you feel looking at this artwork? Would you feel differently if you feel if you walked through it in person? Photo: Serena Ypelaar

Next time you look at a painting/photograph or listen to some music or go to the theatre, think about these questions, because art, and the experience of interacting with it, may be more about the self than we realize.

How to Save a Life

This past year, I’ve often reflected on our inability to control the passage of time. It’s something that haunts us throughout our lives, since it’s beyond our power to stop time from unraveling. We often wish to transcend mortality, and while that’s an unattainable goal, there are ways we can deal with such a dark reality.

One such method is the art of biography. How can we hold on to what we have left of people? Our family and friends aren’t gone without a trace when they die, nor are public figures. Why? Well, because we remember them.

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Museums can facilitate biography in their exhibitions, such as this one in Jimi Hendrix’s London flat (Handel & Hendrix). Photo: Serena Ypelaar

Regardless of who you are, you will die having left some indelible mark on the world, no matter how small. Biography is a means of harnessing what we can control about life and preserving it for the future. It doesn’t just document birth, life milestones, education, work, marriage, family, and death. Biography also captures the emotional experience of a person during their life. It gets to the heart of who they were and how they interacted with others.

We can study the lives of the living as well – there are plenty of biographies written about those who are still with us. The bottom line is that biographies outlive us if they’re preserved in the public eye – they can be immortal.

I won’t even wonder whether biography is important: it is. We can’t hope to learn from those who have lived before us, or in some cases alongside us, unless we keep their lessons accessible for future reference.

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The film “12 Years A Slave” (2013) illustrates the life of Solomon Northup based on his written memoir of his enslavement in America. Photo: Flickr

That said, biography is still an act of interpretation. Even autobiography, the act of telling one’s own life story, consists of interpreting one’s own life and defining it. We must consider the issues that come with biographers as individuals, as their own interpretations can influence the way an individual’s life story is retold.

I think it’s fair to say that we all have some kind of role model (or in my case, many), some of whom we may not have met in person. We venerate them because they made a contribution to public life that would have us remember them. It’s worth questioning what merits a full-scale biography, whether in book form, biopic, documentary, or otherwise. Something in our ability to connect to individuals lends itself to widespread commemoration through biography. But these forms of media aren’t the only kind of biography – for instance, we write our own bios all the time for professional purposes. Biography is an engine of self-definition, a tool of categorization; it’s also a means of trying to understanding each other.

In this column, “On Biography“, we’ll take a look at why we remember certain individuals, how they are remembered, who remembers them, and how this affects their identity, both during their lifetime and after it. We’ll examine what it means to be a person and how public memory can rearrange the collective understanding of people’s lives. And, perhaps most importantly, we’ll learn how people make connections.

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The diary of Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl who lived in hiding during WWII, is a moving document that has informed countless biographies. What’s so compelling is the diary’s ability to connect us with Anne Frank and her experiences; in reading it, we can hear her speak. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A biography saves that which we never thought we could save. While it’s not the literal act of saving a life, creating a biography ensures that we can connect to people long after they are gone, whether to learn something or merely to take comfort.

How do we save a life using the limited means afforded to us? Preserve it, and make sure we never forget.

It’s Lit(erary)

Hello again, dear readers, and thanks for visiting The Mindful Rambler! Last week, we talked about history and who writes our past. Collectively (though not without knowledge hierarchies), we shape our memory of historical events through storytelling. Now, let’s look at the second of our four themes: Literature.

When I speak broadly about literature, I mean fictional prose, poetry, literary essays, or the like. Literature may not necessarily reflect on actual events, but it does capture elements of the human experience for us to examine and reflect upon. Thus, literature is an instrument of storytelling.

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An extremely crammed bookshelf promises enough interpretation to last years. Photo: Serena Ypelaar

Why is it important to look at literature in the field of interpretation? Because literature itself is an interpretation of the world around us. The creators of literature are absorbing what they see around them and reproducing (or subverting) it through the act of storytelling. Drawing upon shared experiences and portraying them, whether through realism or abstraction, allows us to understand each other, ourselves, and our environment.

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Daunt Books, Hampstead, London, UK. Photo: Serena Ypelaar

Literature uses the written word to tell us the truths the world doesn’t share openly – but it’s more than just that. Books, poems, pamphlets, essays, and other literature aren’t limited to just words. They give us imagery; they provoke our senses and prompt us to think critically in response to stimuli. We aren’t force-fed these images, nor is the meaning of a literary work meant to slap us in the face. There are nuances that we ourselves have to read into, which often means that we as individuals bring different perspectives to the literature we consume.

In the act of reading, we’re interpreting. We process the messages that writers (who have interpreted before us) present to us, and our takeaway varies from one person to the next based on past experiences. Our own personalities and backstories define what stands out to us and what we think is worth considering.

So how do we find a definitive interpretation of literary texts?

We can’t.

We can choose to venerate the analyses of certain individuals – for instance, since I like Samuel Johnson, to whom this blog’s title pays homage, I’m more likely to embrace his opinions on Shakespeare. Conversely, if I love Jane Austen (and I do, most ardently), I will reject Mark Twain’s scathing criticisms of Pride and Prejudice. But you, or someone else, may like and respect Twain’s opinion and therefore lend it some credence. Our biases influence our perceptions, so interpreting literature is a constant decision-making process.

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Graves from the Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, London, UK. Readers connect with different works/authors/themes as a result of their individual background – this diversity affects our interpretive processes. Photo: Serena Ypelaar

Hence, once literature is published, its meaning lies in the hands of the recipient. Authors’ intentions are powerful and significant, and this column, “On Literature“, will explore those ethical concerns. However, we aren’t necessarily bound by them. No one can really police our response to literature because it’s a very personal interaction. As a former English major, I definitely learned how to pick up on people’s partiality and respond to that, but ultimately, we form our own relationships with the materials that are presented to us.

So literature as media is oddly empowering: we can choose what we read, how we read it, and how we respond to it. We can be mindful of the contexts in which a work was produced, or we can simply read it at face value – and is either interpretation wrong?