Self-serving art misses point

By Clyde Davis: CNJ columnist

It began innocently enough. During the trek over a long stretch of road near Elk City, Okla., I made an off-hand comment to my wife concerning the Tim McGraw song that was on the country station.
“Don’t you just hate it when somebody uses music to process their personal life, then passes it off as entertainment?” (The song was “Angry all the Time.”)
“That’s what art is,” she responded.
Maybe yes, maybe no. I realized, though, that what I personally dislike is when that personal statement becomes so obtuse or so obscure that one cannot establish any connection, which is how that song strikes me.
We have seen it, and we all have examples. The song or poem or story that is just a collection of words, the painting that more closely resembles a paintspill, the sculpture that is a formless blob, the drama that seems to be a series of meaningless motions.
Where do we draw the line? I was reading a literary magazine the other day. I admit my view was colored; the magazine was one of those consolation copies they send you when your submission lands in the “almost but not quite published” box.
Most of the fiction appeared really good, but I could not, in any way, relate to the story that was simply a series of “He thinks … she thinks.”
Admittedly biased, I thought my story of escaping vigilantes would have been a lot more fun to read.
So what is the responsibility of art, whether graphic, 3D, writing, or drama? If it is to express one’s creative urge, then it doesn’t matter if anyone can relate to it or not; the ability to reach an audience is secondary or immaterial.
If it is to perform an act of therapy or self understanding, the same may be said to be true. If it is a spiritual or religious oblation, then it still fits into that category; it doesn’t matter if anyone can connect with it or not.
This is certainly a valid aspect of art, but if I am attempting to make a statement about life in general, or my life in particular, that I want others to connect with, if I am attempting to touch the emotional and or sensory world of others — if, in short, I am looking at my creative efforts as something that I want to make a difference, entertain, or even shock and disturb (which is a way of making a difference) then that common grounding is vital.

Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and an instructor at Eastern New Mexico University. He can be contacted at: