Yesterday morning I was listening to the song “Grace Is Gone” by the Dave Matthews Band in the car on my way to work. That got me to thinking about how musicians are often asked about the meanings of their songs and how Dave has said that “Grace” in the song is not a woman but a state, as in a state of grace. This may be Dave’s interpretation based on what he was thinking when he wrote the song, and it remains a valid interpretation if you are looking for the artist’s motivation, but once a creative work is put “out there,” the original artist’s interpretation is no longer the ONLY valid interpretation. Every person who hears a song, every person who reads a book, every person who looks at a work of art, gets to interpret it exactly as he or she wants to through the lens of his or her personality and life experiences.
I ran smack into this personal interpretation a number of years ago when I displayed a piece I had woven in an art show. The weaving, a two-sided, reversible, green and white fabric, shows what in my mind is a soul – any old soul, not a particular one. When the piece was on display, a woman pointed to it and said to me, “Oh, it’s Jesus!” Well, um, no. Jesus wasn’t on my mind while I was creating it, but then I realized that her interpretation was exactly right for her and gave her an emotional investment in my art. The art no longer solely belonged to me. And I was okay with that.
“Grace Is Gone” no longer solely belongs to the Dave Matthews Band. Too many people have been inspired and affected by the song for the band to stake this claim. I, for example, have used the song as inspiration for one of the stories in Greenville, and Grace is no longer a state, she’s a woman, which is what I pictured when I first heard the song. (Young Son #2, however, took Grace to be a state.)
All of this mulling over the song brought me to a vision of book manuscripts sitting quietly in drawers, unpublished and unread. I wonder if part of the reason they remain in drawers is so that their creators can hang onto them, to keep them from entering the wider world and thus risk “misinterpretation” from the perspective of their creators. Because, once your creation is “out there,” it’s not yours anymore.