the pressure to be meaningful

Is all art meaningful?

What a loaded question that is. And what an exhausting calling it can be. It’s why I love nature so much, like this beautiful pond on Hampstead Heath. It just is itself. Full of purpose and life, but also just itself.

At the heart of the question is the assumption that every artist approaches a project with an underlying purpose of making the audience understand something.

There is certainly art like that in the world. Art that drives home a point, makes inequality clear, or addresses a key social issue.

But there is also art in the world that isn’t like that.

And everywhere there are audiences or critics viewing this art. And sometimes they say deep things, such as:

“You can see by the way this idea is repeated that the artist feels the defeat of the mouse.”

not a real art critic, ever (I hope)

That… or maybe the artist just drew a picture of a mouse because a mouse was there and because the artist wanted to draw what was there.

The world is anxious to give meaning to art.

An example that drove this home for me was in my music degree. I was writing a sextet (which can be heard here), and realised that it wasn’t going to be long enough. So, I did what anyone else would do. I copied and pasted and repeated an idea.

At the same time, in my music history subject, we were analysing some music, and a fellow class mate offered this idea:

“I think the composer repeated this idea here, so we would be reminded of the pastoral element of the A section.”

That… or maybe the composer realised that their piece wasn’t going to be long enough, so took the idea from the start that hadn’t been heard for a while and reused it so that the piece was long enough.

Or maybe, just maybe, the composer did it because they liked it. They enjoyed the effect that particular technique had, and so did that. No magic reason why, just for the sake of it.

You might be wondering what the point of all this rambling is.

Well, for me as a creative, I feel the overwhelming pressure to be meaningful. That small interaction in music history class made me want to rewrite my entire sextet to have hidden meanings. To attach infinite purpose to all of my creative decisions.

This has been particularly apparent to me over the past month. Everything needs to be a commentary, everything needs to make a point, everything needs to make the truth heard.

But what if all I want to do is draw a little picture of a mouse? What if that is all I have to offer?

I don’t have the emotional energy left to create something meaningful. I have the energy to create something I like, but that doesn’t mean that it will also be meaningful.

And I’m decently certain that many readers here will feel the same.

So, a favour and a suggestion.

Let go of deep meaning for a while. Enjoy art. Enjoy music. Enjoy what people have made. Enjoy making what you are making.

Don’t pressure others or yourself to create something that will change the world right now. Who knows, something might anyway.

But for now, breathe. Enjoy what you can enjoy, and let go of what you cannot cope with right now.

Happy creating!

Jena Ren (Jenny Guilford) – 2020

Enjoy what I write, or have thoughts to add? Take time to follow, like, comment and share. Collaboration makes us all better creators, so join the conversation and start inspiring others!

This post was originally published on the 21st of April, 2020.

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