I believe that some of the most effective art expresses complex emotions very simply. I write that sentence after listening to “Last Goodbye” by Jeff Buckley and in the wake of a devastating break-up. Break ups can create a complex mixture of emotions in most cases where it’s not amicable and mutual. There’s a feeling of betrayal, the persistence of an intense affection, personal doubts one one’s own self worth, the breaking down of barriers that forgiveness built and just letting anyone who will listen know exactly what shit you put up with. And for what at this point, Colleen!? Sorry. That’s sorta what I’m dealing with.
Not everyone appreciates or sees things as complex gradients bleeding one into the other so that the emotions and behavior of a person can’t be neatly categorized, the appropriate reaction being muddled. The mind of the other person difficult to empathize with, lacking the simplicity desired in order to easily digest what has been said or done. Some people want love or hate. Friend or enemy. Good and bad. I can be slow to react so I like to consider a situation or observe a person’s behavior for a while before I feel I can have some kind of insight into their thoughts or motives. The black and white thinking is more common in those prone to react quickly. Maybe? I don’t know. I don’t claim to understand that mindset but I’ve observed it in people over the years and I’m in an environment currently where I get the impression that many of those around me would rather have a catchphrase solution to any problem than hear a careful, well thought explanation of the circumstances of the situation. “Just give me the broad strokes. We all have problems and yours are not important,” is my own take away from these kinds of people so I am generally quiet until I find out who wants to listen and who wants to label and discard.
I do fail at tact but I strive for it as a rule. I can relate very closely to “Last Goodbye.” Jeff Buckley paints a tonally subtle portrait of a conflicted lover who is experiencing some of those things I mentioned that I was in the first paragraph. When someone expresses conflicting opinions to their actions, when they say, “Do as I say not as I do,” the incongruity of conflicting aspects of the personality puts off almost everyone. But conflicting emotions are humanizing. Buckley sings as a person aware of his faults, one who deeply loves the woman the song is directed at. I hear him painting the broad strokes that people want often, but he imbues them with detail through the power and also the economy of effective words he uses, offering insight into complex emotions with a handful of words.
Kiss me out of desire,
You know it makes me so angry
But I know that in time,
I’ll only make you cry,
This is our last goodbye
He acknowledges in a few lines his faults and the desire of the woman he’s speaking to which implies the conflict within her as well. A kiss from consolation would come from a person with no internal conflict, one perfectly secure in the decision to walk away and doing so easily.
Other lines of the song assign blame. There are lines that accept blame. There’s a symmetry. This is human interaction, a push and pull where in most cases no party is entirely guilty or innocent. This is the conclusion reached by a mature person. This pop song in a few minutes and with few words reveals the complexity and maturity of the end of a relationship between to people who presumably are very in love but for unknown reasons have to say goodbye. The unknown details left to the listener to fill in with their own experience if they can empathize with the lyrics.
Art, as with all human interaction, is an imperfect process. The experience of the artist can’t be directly transmitted to the viewer so more modest, broader goals should be sought. With effective tact, the artist can crystallize an experience into an artifact that can be appreciated implicitly by an outside party with all extraneous details stripped. This takes different forms with song and visual art being prime examples in my opinion because they are inherently sparse or abstract. The prose of Hemingway or the advice to the writer to start as close to the end as possible are examples of this tact in longer form media. Ultimately though, art is communication and, to my mind, and attempt to bridge the gap between artist and viewer to heightened effect compared to other forms of communication. I don’t know Jeff Buckley better after one song than I would if I was his close friend, but as an artist, he’s said to me more in four minutes than he likely said to any of his friends in casual conversation. Well, most conversation. Don’t want to sell him short. But I think my point stands.
Art unites people. Not people as a race of beings, but one human to another. Yes, individuals rally around art based on mutual admiration. But art in the forms I can think of, as it’s experienced, is a personal conversation between strangers who aren’t speaking to each other but one is communicating in an uncommon way. There is always something lost in translation, and some art, even great art, is entirely lost on some people, but the imperfection of the communication channel is never a reason to give up or strive to perfect it, it just needs to pull the right people as close to the artist as it can.