One of the reasons why we have so much art, and why there are more poets than people who read poetry, to give one example among many, is that art and literature and music provide us with a means of communicating that which we struggle to say by words directly to other people. For a variety of reasons that are sometimes hard to understand, we both fear and long to be known, struggle with but also find it necessary to try to communicate with those around us. Some people have made successful careers dishing out the gossip of their lives and others through art that other people consume out of the parasocial need to be a part of a community of people in on the information of such dubious value.
No communication is without ambiguity or difficulty. If it is hard for us to communicate effectively in a direct fashion, indirect communication is equally fraught with difficulties, and it is not hard to understand why. People may either read too much or too little into anything that is communicated, or may simply read things incorrectly. If people are inclined to misread and misrepresent what is communicated to them, there are very few means one has to give them the correct idea if they refuse to be corrected.
Even the effort of trying to communicate in the sort of fashion that one does in artistic form is filled with difficulty, not least because some people are highly upset by the possibility that private stories will inspire public creations that are shared with the wider world. Those of us who are creative people are often viewed–not entirely without reason–as being hungry for morsels of real behavior that we can use as the raw material for our creations, thus bringing private people who understandably desire to remain private into public scrutiny and often ridicule. Who can be sure what fragment of one’s personality or conduct will inspire someone to write or sing some immortal creation that one has to live with for the rest of one’s life, and which may bring to light much that we do not wish to have said at all.
Examples of this problem are legion. I have had to deal with cases, some of them true and some of them false, where people have thought themselves to have inspired some unflattering account I provided of them in one or another of my writings. Jane Austen’s friends and associates, when her fame as a novelist started to spread among her social circle during the last few years of her life and beyond, wondered among themselves the extent to which her fiction was drawn from her pointed observations of what was going on around her that she was largely an acerbic observer of. Even more gentle souls like the late Dan Fogelberg had to deal with the repercussions of making art out of personal interactions like that with an old lover in “Another Auld Lang Syne,” to say nothing of his confessional songs about his own relationship struggles. Art sometimes only deepens the issues we have in communicating with others.