Of late, I have seen a few people making arguments that you can’t possibly understand something - usually a musical artist - unless you are have had a particular set of experiences or whatever. And that is fine! But here’s the thing about that argument: the only really fair thing you can conclude about the not-understanders is that their not-understanding is perfectly OK. After all, if it was impossible for them to understand - and if there’s nothing you can do to change that - then what other reaction could they have had? The “you can’t understand” argument is only useful if you want to shut off conversation, if you want to convince people that your appreciation of an artist is something they can’t possibly share.
But I guess, to me, that seems like an abdication of your duty as a writer. As a writer, your whole job is to help people understand things they would otherwise have difficulty understanding. And the place to start from seems to be not “you can’t possibly understand!” but “hey, I have a particular set of experiences that give me a useful perspective on what this artist is doing.” And then you can use your writerly skills to convey those insights in a way that is understandable. That’s sort of what writing’s about, after all - using words to make the experience of a particular perspective accessible to people who have not had those experiences. This idea is traditionally applied to fiction, but I think it works with criticism, too. We all have unique sets of experiences and bodies of knowledge that can sometimes give us valuable insights on a work of art, and while we can certainly use that to score points and make ourselves feel better in a “no one understands this but I DO” kind of way, I guess in my dotage I have come to feel like it would be more valuable if you shared that with the rest of us in a way we could understand. Using WORDS! Because one day - and trust me on this - you will be the one not-understanding, and in that case you will be very happy for the help.
The corollary to this is that it is okay to ask people to explain things to you. It is both okay to ask for explanations and okay to give explanations, and it both cases you should be an adult about it and not feel ashamed because you need one or angry because someone is asking. Shame and anger are flip sides of a coin that I like to call, for god’s sake, it’s not judging you. You’re judging you. Maybe the people standing nearby it are judging you. But they are not your real friends. They hate fun. Is that the kind of crowd you want to run with? Wait let me put it in another way. Is that the kind of single-serve Tumblr you want to have to update every day?
And all of this is true unless that is you have decided that experiences should live in separate boxes and communication in general is a heap of horseshit and you would rather just use language to daf fadf gjg adfasdf adf f ddadsfjadsfadfa bears featherbook microaffinity
Which seems like preschool style simple but I am still working on it, so.
Theater can take place so near to you that you can have your hand stamped by it on the way in. So close that you can sit in the front row squinting at the faces of the actors in front of you, wondering about the provenance of their scratches and scrapes. So close that you can see the strength of it backed immediately by the fragility of it.
I wrote about the unfathomable bravery of the Belarus Free Theatre for the Youngblog. I also wrote about what you can do to support them. It won’t take much time, and if anything I said the other day about art & ambition struck you, I’m gonna say: Click on over.