Many years ago, I was in Barcelona, and, failing to find the mesoamerican museum I was looking for, ended up at the Picasso museum. At the time, there was a special exhibit on called “Picasso Erotique,” and, when they asked if I’d like to buy a ticket to it, I shrugged and said “sure.” (That’s how I roll when I travel.)
The first room of the exhibit was just your basic teenage/twenty-something doodles of people having sex. They were accurately drawn, I’ll give him that, but yeah, they were just hand-drawn porn. What was interesting (and the reason I bring it up) was the progression as I walked through the various rooms of the exhibit.
By the time I reached the final room, all of the artwork was abstract sculpture made up of spheres and conical forms kind of jumbled together. But, because I had started in the first room and followed the artist’s evolution over time, I knew that the sphere I was seeing in that abstract sculpture was not just a sphere, but representative of something a lot more titillating. If I’d just peeked into that final room, I’d have had no idea.
By seeing the work evolve over time, I had learned the “language” of the artist so that I could understand what he was portraying at the end even though there were no obvious indications in the final works themselves.
I was reminded of this yesterday, because I had a bit of a disconnect with a friend of mine. We’ve known each other for years and have any number of inside jokes and a long history. But the other day, I just needed an answer to a very simple question – do you have a dentist you can recommend? And the response I got back was, “I used to go to ‘the dentist.’ He was expensive.” And I thought, “WTF? Why are you putting ‘the dentist’ in quotes? I don’t recall this being an inside joke. Did I forget it? What’s so hard in telling me your dentist’s name?” (I’m cranky like that. It’s a miracle I have any friends…)
Turns out the dentist was brilliant enough to title his practice “the dentist.” But, because I have this long, multi-layered history with my friend, I didn’t see the simple response for what it was.
I have another friend I’ve known for twenty plus years and we can literally have conversations that make no sense to anyone: “Did you?” “Yeah.” “Can you?” “No. How?” “I don’t know.” (This is another reason no one really wants to write real dialogue, but I’ll save further discussion of that for another post, because this one’s going to be bad enough as is.)
Now, to tie this back to writing. (Bear with me here. And, yes, I did just go look that up to make sure I was using the proper form of bear vs. bare. Sigh.)
Each word* a writer communicates publicly creates a dialogue and shared history with their readers. A loyal reader will remember everything you’ve “told” them before and will expect you to be consistent.
I was going to say that they want the dialogue to evolve, but I realized that’s not actually true for many popular authors. They’re not successful because they evolve, they’re successful because they’re consistent. They deliver the same basic story over and over again. Tying this back to the exhibit, think Thomas Kinkade vs. Picasso. Kinkade delivered the same thing in slightly different forms; Picasso evolved. They served different purposes, but each needed to be consistent in meeting the needs of his given audience. (And no, I’m not an art history expert, so that’s just my layman’s uninformed opinion.)
Another issue for an author is that, after a certain period of time, everything you say is burdened by everything you’ve said before. Just like in a long-term relationship (think parent-adult child interactions) every communication carries the weight of all prior conversations and interactions. Even if you don’t mean something in the same way, if the way you used it before was powerful enough to create a lasting impression, that impression will impact what you say now.
And, of course, there’s the final twist for an author, which is new fans. You can’t rely on a shared history to the point that you alienate anyone who is new to your work. Well, I guess you could. You just better have a damned loyal following if you go that route. Again, taking this back to that Picasso exhibit. The sculptures in that final room were still beautiful in and of themselves. If I’d started in that final room, I wouldn’t have seen the deeper symbolism in the forms, but I would have still appreciated their clean lines and sleek construction.
Anyway. Just a few jumbled thoughts. And, as a side note (and to make up for my bumbling here): My favorite museum exhibit of all time, ever, is Joyas at the Salvador Dali museum in Figueres. My favorite piece.
*Why trusting spell-check is a bad thing: WordPress wondered if I’d meant to use “whirred” there instead of “word.”