On Writing

‘All action’, wrote Hannah Arendt in her meditations on what it meant to be human ‘presupposes a spectator’. Humanity is about seeing and being seen. This is not some idle commentary on the importance of Facebook friends or Instagram followers. It is a recognition that we are not fully alive until we are acknowledged by ourselves and our peers. Visibility is a precondition for feeling alive.

Writing, like other forms of creative expression, assumes the spectator. The painting is painted, the music composed and the words written in order to be enjoyed. Enjoyed by whom? Well, someone of course! The very act of creative expression assumes there will be someone there to receive and enjoy it.

The creative act is a revelation. ‘Revelation’ shares an etymological root with ‘reveal’, of removing the shroud/image/façade and seeing beneath. Revelation means literally ‘lifting the veil’. The creative act is a self-revelation where the artist bears themselves as they are on their canvas, music sheet or loose leaf. Art involves laying oneself bare in front of others.

This quality of psychological nakedness, of raw honesty, is fraught with ambiguity. Of course, the artist may be accepted and praised for what they have done. But they may also be rejected and tossed aside. This goes beyond mere pessimism or optimism but is a recognition of the fact that nothing is promised in advance but the artist perseveres, knowing a devotion to their truth matters more than its reception by spectators.

Crucial, for me, and perhaps for others, is recognising that in the creative act we open ourselves up to others. We allow others to peer into our soul and see what it is like. The book says as much about the world around as it does about the author who wrote it. The book says of its author ‘I am here. I lay before you something important. You may accept it or may reject it but you cannot help but recognise it. This is my offering to you. This is my truth’.

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