I read a very interesting article on Bobulate recently (Bobulate, btw, is a very wonderful blog that talks about beauty and design and their interaction with our lives - the author Ms Danzico is a unique genius, and if you've never read her blog, you're missing out. If you're keeping your blogroll short, drop mine and read hers - I fumble awkwardly at ideas that she presents iwth clarity of a grocery list). Anyways. I read an interesting article, talking about design, particularly in the case of Frank Lloyd Wright. Conceptually Wright designed buildings to generate a particular experience - his determination of 'perfect' home living. The houses are beautiful and well designed for that particular experience. But unfortunately, many people who actually LIVE in the houses come to dislike them. The kitchens are small and out of the way for instance, the furniture is built in usually and difficult to move. The little things that they want to be their own way simply aren't that way, aren't MEANT to be that way. The assumption in a Wright house is that the occupant should adapt to the perfect lifestyle Wright discovered for them, rather than the house adapting to the lifestyle the occupant wants.
Of course, this is an oversimplification of Wright's work, and I don't bring this up to get into an argument about architecture (a subject which I admittedly know very little about). What was interesting was the way the author described this problem - designers cannot design experiences, they can only design artifacts to be experienced. In other words, designers (and I would argue all artists) must eventually accept that they cannot force an experience on their audience, they can only give fodder that the audience generates their own experiences out of.
I, as a budding, awful writer, have struggled with this myself. When I write, the writing comes not because I have these plots float through my head, but because I have specific impressions, sensations, and internal moments that I want to communicate. My writing, thus, has a tendency to be very pedantic, sometimes even badgering, as I smash the reader over the head, INSISTING that they FEEL THIS ONE THING. Which, when I go back and read it, if I'm not feeling that one thing, is grating and a little dull. Some writers make me feel this way too, and I see the outlines of it in the reviews people put up of some of the books that they dislike (or like - it can be quite flattering to have a book tell you that what you believe is ever so clever).
The BEST books, of course, are EXTREMELY subjective, and SHOULD be so. I was thinking of this after reading the very intelligent review Ms Nymeth put up recently of "The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ." She put this very well in terms of the Bible:
The appeal of stories is of course that they’re both memorable and open to interpretation, and this allows them to illustrate more complex realities than simple definitions ever could. But this also means that absolute truths cannot really be built upon them.
This gets into the problem with most religions to me - the law is a series of strict, dogmatic standards by which things can be scientifically judged, but the stories largely deal with the exceptions to those rules. To accept the stories as evidence of the law too often leads to an exclusionist megalomania, either saying that the rules apply as long as the church leaders say so (there is, for instance, in my mind, a subtle kind of arrogance in the Papacy deigning to forgive the sins of the Beatles or to allow Galileo posthumously back into the arms of the Church), or even beyond that, as long as God says so. It is, I guess, something that is a bit dangerous to say, but I offer this as a struggle, not as an attack: it was always difficult for me not to think the God of the bible was something of a hypocrite, like a parent who teaches their children rules they themselves are unwilling to follow (in this sense God seems very human, since parents make this mistake all the time, but it undermines my desire to worship him, since it seems to me to point out his fallibility). Either way, the problem is that the power of stories is best used to make people look at themselves and others and society and the universe, not to tell them what they would see if they bothered to look.
But, again, at some level this is advice that goes beyond the composition of scripture and the building of houses. This can be true of any book (or work of art). The power of literature is in it's ability to draw people out of themselves and illuminate the bits of human nature that it's difficult to see on our own. But, the power of this illumination comes from us nooking ourselves into the empty places. Like a fortune teller, the great author tells enough to compel attention, then leaves the listener to fill the magic in themselves. That's the thing - there is no perfect work of art, because art requires two things - an artist and an audience, and neither of those things ever SHOULD be under the control of the artwork.