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The Artist’s Intent

“I think writers with actual intentions generally end up saying things they already thought they knew, and I’m not much interested in reducing my vocation as a poet to something like propagandist. I write poems to find things out, not to communicate some previously ossified conclusion.”

-poet Scott Cairns in an interview with Image

Most of my recent posts have to do with various things we can wrestle with as artists and creators. I ran across this quote from Cairns and it evoked a puzzled response more than anything. I can read his quote and think, “Absolutely! Screw propaganda and allow the creativity to flow.” He makes the journey sound beautiful, and yet…

I feel like many musicians and writers do have that intent in mind. They do have something specific to communicate and the end goal already figured out. And I’m sure sometimes they might deviate from that – as they get going, they realize their creativity is a forceful river unto itself, eroding the banks and rushing over land into a new path. But I know that others begin and end with the same conclusion, starting with The End in mind and moving there without distraction. And I still feel like it’s good art.

Am I mistaken? Of course, Scott Cairns is not infallible so perhaps that’s not a blanket statement he made. But what is the tension? What is proper goal-setting for the artist and what is too much predetermination? I’d love to hear from both the artist and the patron on this, because I feel like, as a patron of much, that I can sniff out the rat of propaganda and I hate it. Then again, I can recognize the tension of needing to go somewhere as well.

So have you wrestled with this before? Where did you end up? Did you err on one side or the other?


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