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Reflections on Eileen Myles and the Interpretation of Art as a Form of Expression
Antonio Kieschnick
La Pietra Dialogues
February 14, 2017

Two weeks ago, the poet Eileen Myles gave a talk at Villa La Pietra on her work and what it means to her. The name of the talk was originally “Born to Describe,” but Myles said, upon second thought,  “Cartoons” should be the title instead. Myles explained this change by telling the audience about a novel she came acrossan autobiography written from the perspective of a 12-year-old. In the novel, the author describes a cartoon, and while the cartoon may only be 3 or 4 vignettes, the writer goes on for pages and pages, describing each scene in precise detail. The point, Myles said, was that poetry and writing is a way of expressing your reaction to art. The author wrote pages on pages about the vignettes because they saw a wealth of information and beauty amongst that set of squares; someone else might have written at best a few lines about the cartoon, because all they saw was a fox getting whacked over the head with a mallet. In a sense, art is just as much defined by the meaning derived by its audience as the meaning intended by its creator. This same idea can be applied to art in general: an artist might use art to express their own reaction to life around them in the same way that someone perceiving that same piece of art might take it and reinterpret it for their own circumstances. The creation and perception of art is a way to reflect and make sense of the universe as it shifts and morphs beneath our very feet. Not only that, but art is an expression of how someone is feeling at a specific momenta melancholic piece of art is not necessarily like that because the artist is a blue person, but rather because when they created that piece, they were feeling a certain type of way. However, at the end of the day, Eileen Myles’ talk was not aimed at a general public, but at the college students in attendance. Perhaps this was because most college students tend to be going through a lot of conflicting emotions as they mature, and art offers a way for them to express sentiments that they might not otherwise be capable of. So it is particularly salient to explore the students’ own thoughts on art and its purpose. To expand on this, I asked fellow NYU students to consider how they express themselves through art, and what that means to them. Here are their thoughts.


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Marc Licciardi:

Playing guitar is probably my favorite way to express myself. The feeling you get, especially when you’re just jamming and not really even thinking about what youīre doing, is surprisingly intense. For the type of music I play, the feeling Iīm usually searching for is pain, but itīs a type of pain thatīs always so satisfying to find. I think capturing that feeling is even more important than technical proficiency. Jimi Hendrix once said that playing the blues is easy; itīs feeling them thatīs the hard part. I think thatīs sort of the way all art is. You can be taught proper methods, but at the end of the day what would it be without the emotion?


Zeynep Kilik:

I would say that I mostly express myself through poetry. I try to keep a journal with me just in case I get any inspiration to write or I just record it on my phone whenever I can. However, I do miss expressing myself through music, specifically by playing the piano. On my social medialike my Facebook, Insta[gram], or TwitterI choose to share whatever pieces I want publicly with my friends online. I find that expressing myself through social media is much more candid since most of the time it is done in real time and I tend not to over-edit myself. Whenever I share these posts or keep them to myself in my journal Iīm expressing what I felt at that very moment during that day. Itīs sort of like a verbal screenshot of my emotions, if that makes sense.


Kira Boden-Gologorsky:

I categorize the ways in which I express myself not by medium but by who the art is intended for. I have accumulated a collection of drawings and pieces of writing which are solely intended for myself. These pieces are ultra-expressive, they are arguably the most honest things I create. They are emotional "snapchats" if you will. They exist in the present with an unfiltered tone and almost crazed urgency, begging to be released so they can disappear. They include anxious ramblings when I canīt sleep at 4am, doodles when I am angry or sad or happy or anything in between.

 

However, when I know I am producing something for “public” consumption I self-censor my subject matter and therefore the product. This looks different depending on the medium. For example, my social media presence is clearly indicative of my activism and sense of humour. My photography illustrates the ways in which I pride creating deep and intimate connections with people around me, mainly through candid portraits of my closest friends. The art I create for the public sphere is a curated and intentional expression of my emotional self, while the art I create for myself, the private sphere, is unfiltered and honest.


Alexander Graylin:

Through playing the piano, I am able to express myself a great deal. The piano provides a certain comfort and familiarity that allows me to settle down after a long day.  As I sit down on the familiar bench, not only am I the conductor of the music I create, but also the audience to which I play; enjoying and listening to the art that I am forming with my fingers. Although I am not speaking, a story is being told through the music full of new ideas and strong emotions. Through different patterns and combinations of black and white keys I am able to convey happiness, sadness, or even love with the music I play. I can find solace in the piano; an instrument that allows me to express myself in ways nothing else can.


Nour Acogny:

Listening to music makes me feel as if I were in my own bubble. As I listen to different songs and different genres, I think of different things and I visualise different figures; I see colours and thereīs almost a sort of coloured aura for each type of song. Iīm in my own dimension, transported to my own world. As I look at an impressionist painting, for example [Claude] Monetīs Soleil Levant (Rising Sun), I get lost in the painting and a cloud of thoughts appears: itīs a saddening peacefulness; I look at the ships from afar and they remind me of pirates and battleships, but they also remind me of colonialism; the red sunīs reflection on the calm water is like spilled blood on a deserted battlefield. I think of WWI. I read a book and (like most people) I am also transported to another world, another time, into another body. Itīs sort of a magical process. I feel the characterīs emotion, I feel as though I were at the place the events written about take place and I have a whole new outlook on life, and learn so much about an era, things you donīt learn in a class. Love stories, friendships made and taken away at war, I can even place myself in the shoes of a dying person.


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It’s interesting to note from these reactions that expression through art comes not only through the creation of art, but also through its perception and interpretation. Myles mentioned that her job as a poet was just as much to describe art as it was to describe life around her. Here we see students for whom art and its expression comes not only through what they create, but also through what they interpret it to be and how it manifests itself in their imaginations. Kira mentioned how in many respects, what mattered about the art she created was not just what it was, but also who it was intended for. Nour goes into detail about how her connection with art helps her reinterpret the world around her, how music can take her to another dimension and help her reflect on her own experiences. Art is not a singular creator-to-audience transaction, but rather an interaction between artist and audience, where the artist tries to express themselves through a medium, but at the same time, the audience has to take that art and reinterpret it and fit it into their own world view.  


Media technology is slowly transforming the way we perceive art and expressions of emotion, or perhaps it already has. I doubt anyone needs a 19-year-old college student to tell them that. Art is now a form for mass consumption. Anyone can access it through the internet, and that makes the “audience” aspect of art all the more important. The five responses here illustrate that mixture. On the one hand, there are those who  express themselves through creation, by playing guitar like Marc or piano like Alex, or writing up entertaining Facebook posts like Zeynep, and then there are those who  express themselves through the interpretation of that art, through their understanding of a piece like Nour or Kira. Art is an interaction between two peoplethe artist and the audienceand the interpretation of art is just as important as the intention behind it. To recycle an old cliche, it seems that not only art, but also meaning, is to be found not just in the work itself, but also in the eye that beholds.

 
 
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