The World Beneath

All art has a subtext.



You might not believe it. You might think that it’s all just English Lit profs trying for job security, or ego boosting or whatever.

A lot of writers and artists routinely decry the re-interpretation of their work, and a lot of students (a WHOLE LOT of students) take up the war cry, too.


“It’s just a story!”

“It’s just a painting!”

“It’s just a song!”


But here’s the thing.

What you create is informed by your beliefs – many of which you yourself are completely unaware that you hold.

They creep in. They are there before ever you open the new Word document, sing a note, or pick up the charcoal or the paintbrush.

They’re inherent in the story you choose to write, and in the subject/object you re-create on paper or canvas. They’re inherent in you as the creator, and your awareness of it is immaterial.

For fantasy writers, the very fact that you choose to write about pitting “Good” against “Evil” suggests that you in fact, deep down, know this.

When you write about a humble heroine overcoming great evil – you say volumes more about you and what you believe in than you realize.

When you write about evil swamping the world in an abyss of hate – when you tell your readers that “good” doesn’t always win, when you tell a story from the point of view of a villain who thinks they are the good guy – you have shown more about yourself than a million words speaking directly about what you think you believe could ever say.


Even the trivial has unspoken connotations.


In art college, our instructors were quick to tell us this: that everything we put into our art carried meaning – that every visual cue had a symbolism we needed to be aware of. That we needed to educate ourselves, constantly and widely, so that the message we wanted to send was the one that got sent.

Colours, objects, shapes, placements: they all carry emotional and cultural qualities, read by the viewer from their own life/context.

And that is just as true with words: when you decide the curtains are blue, or the man wore a ball-cap, or the trees were laden with snow – you might think you picked the colour arbitrarily, but underneath, your social values, your emotional state, your cultural preferences are all at play.

And we need to be aware of this – we need to stop deriding the people who point out what these things could mean, because when we do that, we undervalue and shortchange our own work. We make it less than it is. We announce that we stand for very little and that we don’t think the arts matter.


But they do. They matter more than anything else.


Why do you think that totalitarian governments go after artists, writers and musicians right from the start, silencing those voices before any others, and replacing them with low-effort propaganda?


They fear the world beneath your words.


Don’t let them silence you.


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