The other day, Rishu Anand asked if reading was an art the way writing is an art. I said yes, but I was unable to elaborate. Now that I’ve had some time to consider the question, I feel that I can give a proper response.
To do that, let’s define what art is. To me, art is the expression of emotion. The medium of that expression is inconsequential. Now, writers are responsible for pulling readers into the worlds they create by using language in creative ways. Language designed to evoke emotion.
When we read a sentence, none of us read it in the same voice. A sentence that makes one of us laugh might make one of us cry or vice-versa. Readers give the words a writer puts on a page new meaning.
I remember, back in high school, how much I hated having to read old literature for symbolic language. Because as a writer, I know that I very rarely intentionally write symbols into my work. Very few successful writers can incorporate symbolism intentionally.
When I write a story, all the characters and the events, in some small way, reflect my own experiences in life. That doesn’t change when I read, even though the author of the book I’m reading may have taken a vastly different path through life. But when I read, I identify with the characters through my own experiences, and I identify with the events that reflect the life I’ve lived. All readers do this.
Writers turn a story, which is an intensely private creation, into a piece of writing available for public consumption. But we do this because as writers, we know that even one person reading our story is enough. Because even though that one person may interpret the story through the lens of their own life, if that reader gets caught up in the story, then the characters become alive, and, as a writer, I’ve done the most rewarding thing I can possibly do: I’ve connected with another human being.
Writing clearly is only half the battle a writer faces because honestly, the reader is the person responsible for making the story come alive. Sure, the story is alive in my head when I’m writing it, but just because it lives in me doesn’t mean it will live in my readers. And transforming the written word into expression, well, that, to me, is the art of reading.
I’m laughing so hard right now, but this is a perfect example of what I mean by readers being the ones responsible for turning words into art: