Help Wanted (Straining the Limits of Ambiguity)

TLDR: I saw a movie that was hyped to be a mind-bender and came away disappointed. The link to my song for week 11 of #songaweek2018 follows my rant on aesthetics below.

Sometimes you read a book or see a movie or hear a song (or see a painting, a sculpture, a play . . .) that makes you think. But not in the way you think its creator was thinking you’d maybe think you should be thinking.

What I mean is – well, I don’t know what I mean, and that’s the point of this song. Sometimes an artist creates something that they were excited to make, but they can’t properly complete it.

Now by “properly complete” I do not mean tie up every loose end, overly strain a point, or even come to a conclusion about something. All I mean is that to be satisfying, I think a work of art needs to have some level of cohesiveness to it. It may be very subjective – a hundred people could come away with a hundred (or more!) different interpretations of it. But whatever the answers its viewers/readers/etc. come up with, the questions it raises will be identifiable.

Ambiguity is a little like habanero sauce – it can add spice and bring out flavor when used in appropriate amounts. Pile it on like ketchup, though, and it overwhelms. You can’t taste the food anymore. The flavor is gone and all that’s left is spice. In art, too much ambiguity smothers the creation and draws the viewer’s attention only to itself.

But then there’s this sneaky thing artists sometimes do – when a work starts getting away from us and we just can’t wrangle the thing into a cohesive whole, we play the mystic/intellectual card – we make something so dense and ambiguous that confused viewers/listeners/etc. will either assume they are not smart or mystic enough to understand, or pretend they are and give us rave reviews to show their level of aesthetic sensibility.

Understand, I am not saying this is always what’s happening when you or I don’t understand a work of art. I think it’s not even what’s usually happening when we don’t understand. That’s what I love about good art – it pushes the limits and challenges the status quo. We learn and grow and are inspired to explore and discover when we encounter things we don’t understand. And sometimes we are left scratching our heads because something has been truly mind-bending.

But sometimes we’re left scratching our heads because we’ve been given an impressive show, lots of material to contemplate, but not even a semblance of a compass or a flashlight to navigate through it.

Here’s my song for week eleven:

Now this is the part of the story
Where you’ve got to help a storyteller out
I leave this bit to your imagination
Cause I can’t decide what it’s about

we’ve slain the monsters with our big guns
screwed a couple of people in a couple of ways
gotten our thrills and chills and kills

And now here we are at the end of the road
where you’re looking for a semblance of a thought
But I’m sorry to say I got nothing
I don’t know
I got nothing here

And that’s where you come in, you’re intelligent
Cause you chose to hear my story
So I’m confident you can take it from here
Take this story clever listener [reader, viewer, player?]
And run with it
Take this story where you’d like to see it go
Oh no
that’s not what I meant


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