Art and Interpretation

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In amongst what has been an amazing, crazy, sleep-deprived, fun week, I have somehow managed to devour a book titled "Zigzag Street" by Nick Earls (don't ask me how, the only thing I know is that it was at the expense of sleep). It's your typical easy-to-read humorous fiction, up there with Marian Keyes and her ilk. Not too heavy or deep; good holiday or plane reading. I have a weakness for the genre, as those who know me know. The blurb from Nick Earls' website says:

Zigzag Street covers six weeks of Richard's life in the house his grandparents built at Brisbane's Red Hill. Six weeks of rumination, chaos, poor judgement, interpersonal clumsiness and, eventually, hope, as he stumbles from one incident to another.

Richard's trying to be a nineties man, longing to be desirable, searching for calm, but things are only getting more out of control. Zigzag Street is his story.

Despite it's horrid formatting, I enjoyed the story, however the person who recommended and loaned me the book has more than a little fascination with it. Upon reading it I can understand why - there are many parallels between the narrative and his own life. But it did make me wonder what makes art (in all it's forms) 'speak' to us?

I'm not sure that many books have spoken to me, strange as that may seem, with the possible exception of that iconic George Orwell novel, "1984". When I read the novel for the first time, we were studying it in high school (around Year 10, if my memory serves, which would make me 14). I was just starting to be more aware of world politics, and the concept of a bleak future under the rule of Big Brother was amazingly fascinating. I bought a copy of the book at that time and it was only on possibly the fourth or fifth reading that I suddenly realised that 1984 was *now*. And that is why it was fascinating - the idea of a modern parable had been borne within me for the first time, and I still actively seek out similar narratives - Ben Elton's "Blind Faith" immediately jumps to mind as an example of this.

Mostly, though, what speaks to me is music. And I wonder if this is because the stories are by necessity shorter, and more insular. It means the words can be more easily interpreted to apply to a greater range of situations. There have been many occasions where I have listened to a song over a range of years and, depending on what's going on my life, I have heard the song differently. Possibly the best example is off my very first LP - Dire Straits' "Tunnel of Love" from the album "Making Movies". While it feels sometimes as though I have suddenly become more aware of the artist's intentions, I believe in fact that I have just started listening differently.

Sitting here now and trying to think of other examples of art speaking to me on a deep level, one other thing jumps to mind. On my lounge room wall I have a watercolour by an artist who's name is Nancy Anderson. I know little about the artist, but got the impression that she was simply a spare time/backyard-style painter. If it weren't for the fact that her signature is remarkably readable I would never have remembered her name. I spent what was, at the time, an entire months' wages on the painting, which left me eating nothing more than stale bread until the next pay day (although that was not a terribly unusual occurrence at that time of my life), and have faithfully carried it from house to house ever since. It is titled "A River Somewhere" and my favourite thing is to ask people what they see in the picture without giving away the title. Few people see the river until it is pointed out, myself included, although it's obvious once you see it. It has such an amazing burst of colours from its centre, and the images laid over one another make it not only intensely beautiful, but open to endless interpretation.

Which brings me around the long way to my point - somehow, the things that speak most to me are the things that are open to interpretation, or that can be viewed differently through something as minor as an innocent conversation with a friend or a kiss from a child, or as life-changing as a new relationship (or the ending of one).

World view is a common theme in my ramblings - I find the concept of seeing the same things through different eyes endlessly fascinating. It's not just the world around us that we see differently, though, but also the way we react to the world that we see. Which makes me think of a hall of mirrors - reflections of reflections. The only person who sees art as it is meant to be seen is the artist. Others may see beauty, or a parable or an emotion, but every time and to every person, it is something completely different.

Nick Earls
"Zigzag Street"
My copy borrowed, but available from here

Ben Elton
"Blind Faith"
My copy published 2007 by Bantam Press.

Image is of "A River Somewhere" (watercolour) by Nancy F. Anderson.



Peter said...

Doesn't sound too bad, thanks for the review :o)

Don't know if you're interested but I'm currently reading Landmark Status by Alan Rolnick. It's a "funny mystery with social commentary"-type novel through a "...subtropical tangle of legal action, spirits, spells, kung fu, car wrecks, football, phobias, fetishes, wooden flutes, pet rabbits and vintage aircraft...

It's a little Elmore Leonard and a little Carl Hiaasen. Anyway, I'm really enjoying it and thought you might too :o)

Lana Brindley said...

Hi Peter,

Thanks for the recommendation. Landmark Status appears very similar to Earls' style - I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

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