Archive for April, 2023

trusting the tale

D.H. Lawrence’s famous quote, “Never trust the teller, trust the tale,” epitomizes the question of whether art can be fully and deeply appreciated without context. While great stories can speak to timeless themes, understanding the storyteller’s background and motivation is crucial in assessing its significance. Context gives a story meaning, offering essential perspective and answering why the story is being told and what it aims to achieve. For example, a story about women in a society that values and encourages their leadership may inspire and encourage, while the same story told in a repressive society could be an act of great courage. The universal lessons remain timeless, but the context changes everything from what is at stake to how we relate the story to our own lives.

Lawrence elaborates, “The proper function of a critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it.” Critics may recognize, appreciate, and help us identify trends in universal stories, but it is presumptuous and pedantic to believe they understand the story’s intention better than the artist who created it, or that the artist poses a threat to their work. Artists often preserve a story by retelling it in their own voice, providing context to make it more relevant for new audiences.

Christopher Booker’s “The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.” In this book, Booker identifies seven basic plot types:

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

We don’t need critics to rescue us from a retelling of a familiar plot or story, or to save a familiar story from the calculating mind of an artist Rather than protecting, critics can enhance our appreciation of the story by highlighting the artist’s fresh choices that bring a new and more impactful narrative to the familiar.

The question of trust in art raises concerns about the accuracy of the artist’s facts and their motives, prompting us to question whether they have an agenda to influence us. However, good art does not necessarily require us to understand the artist’s agenda, but rather it has the power to provoke our emotions and spark fresh thoughts, awakening us from a state of complacency and encouraging us to question and feel things we may not have experienced otherwise.

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