Pretentious horseshit that happens to be true #2



Photo: Not P J Harvey but a woman with similar abundant hair and trim physique to her


In 2011 I was listening to P J Harvey being interviewed on Radio 4. She'd just released her album Let England Shake and was out and about promoting it.

The interviewer asked her to explain the title track - a not unreasonable request, I thought.

Anyway, she declined.

Her response made no sense at all to me.

I'll tell you what she said.

Before I do, I need to stress that I don't have a transcript of the interview,  so I'm relying on memory to give you her reply. As a result it's likely I won't be using the exact words she used - but I think I'll convey the sense of what she said with a fair degree of accuracy.

"It's the job of the critics to interpret my work," she declared. "My job as the artist is to create the work and put it out there. After that, my job is done. It's up to the critics to explain it."

I thought her response was crazy - and pretentious horseshit to boot - after all, it stands to reason that there is no person better placed to explain the work of the artist than the artist herself.

In the years that followed I wrote a number of novels.

Most, but by no means all, the people who've read my novels seem to have enjoyed them.

But it is clear that many people, irrespective of whether they've enjoyed the books or not, have overlooked the literary allusions they contain.

So I've been presented with the temptation to draw everybody's attention to said allusions and explain why they're there.

It's a temptation I've found easy to resist.

Because, you know what?

Once I'd been put in the position where people were reading my stuff and forming views on it, I realised that P J Harvey was absolutely right: the job of the artist (if I may use that lofty word to describe myself) is to create the work and put it out there. It is, I now realise, the job of the critic to explain it.

If the artist has to explain his own work, it's an admission of failure.

It indicates that the meaning of the work is insufficiently clear for anyone, even a perceptive and well-educated individual, to interpret.

(Note: we writers may bridle at our critics, but we must concede that they tend to be perceptive and rather well-educated).

See: 

Pretentious horseshit that happens to be true #1

High-wire act

All books are not for all people

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