To The Artist, And To The Artist's Keeper...

"Some[who?] consider "The Lady of Shalott" to be representative of the dilemma that faces artistswriters, and musicians: to create work about and celebrate the world, or to enjoy the world by simply living in it." ~ Wikipedia

Now, as a writer myself, I know for a fact that something I have written may be far less complicated than what it comes across as, I'm aware that people interpret things in a manner that will make a piece more "digestible" for their understanding or for their benefit. This is how humans function: we take what is out there in the world and we process it all into an interpretation which will finally be one that we can chew on and digest. Some people like to chew on gum and some people like to chew on tobacco; we all interpret to each his own. But for the poem The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), I would like to go with the school of thought that understands this piece as an allegory expressing the struggle that artists experience, and I want to discuss this with you!

In The Lady of Shalott, the Lady sits in a tower, facing a mirror which provides her with reflections of the daily life down in Camelot. She weaves everything that she sees on the mirror, into a beautiful tapestry! Now, I think the connection between this lady and the artists of yesteryears and the artists of today, is that we are in fact somewhat locked up in a tower where we can constantly weave a beautiful tapestry of the things that we see and our experiences in life, the emotions that we feel (whether they may be emanating from others or are ours entirely), the things that we smell, touch, taste; we take that and create something beautiful out of it. This is what we excel at, this is our arena, kind of like a "tower." And in this tower we often find ourselves, more often than we like! We are kept in this tower by our own desire to produce, to create, to give, to share.

Often, an artist is breathtaking standing in the light of what he/she creates. You see Picasso at his best, in his paintings. You witness Van Gogh in all his glory, while admiring Starry Night or Irises. But have you ever met these people? No. But did you personally know these people? No. And they didn't know you, either. More often than not, artists (anybody who dedicates him or herself to producing excellence in his/her craft for the benefit of the rest of the world) are able to explode into brilliance behind a blank canvass, in front of a blank page in Microsoft Word, over a traditional pen and paper, sitting at a desk with all sorts of twisted metals and beads or whatever. But when that artist is taken out of his/her "tower", that same person tends to go unappreciated and even be seriously misunderstood! An artist feels his/her essence in the creation, the production, the "doing" of it all!

The Lady of Shalott has an unknown curse upon her head. She knows not what it is, but she can feel it constantly looming. A curse will fall upon her the moment she chooses to turn around and look out over Camelot, turning her back on the mirror providing her with reflections of the life as seen through the tower window. The moment she chooses to put down her woven tapestries and come down from that tower into Camelot, the curse is going to descend upon her. And it happens the moment that she does just the thing! Overcome by her own passions and desires , suddenly a reflection isn't good enough! Suddenly, weaving a tapestry isn't worth it anymore! Suddenly, to feel the grass beneath her feet is altogether too good of a desire to have and far better than creating interpretations of what that grass means. So she turns her back on the mirror, and looks out the window. She puts down her "projects" and she leaves the tower.  I believe that every true artist feels a looming "curse" / a looming "darkness" threatening to descend if ever he/she dares put down that pen, put down that brush, put down those tools and turn around in the opposite direction. Even-though it's still the same thing. The view from the window is still the same view that can be seen in the mirror; the difference is in the choice to put oneself first rather than to create and produce material for the betterment of the rest of the world. And even in this, there is a dilemma! Because the artist has become so much a part of what he does/ what she creates, that to back away from that just for a second to turn and look at the world through the window would feel like death to one's identity and reason for existence!

The Lady of Shalott dies in the end. The curse overcomes her and she dies, never able to touch her Lancelot, never being able to love, to live, to be a mother or a warrior! Now, one must wonder:  if she had chosen to stay in her tower, facing the mirror, perhaps she could have devised fantasies in her head of long nights with Lancelot, far battles in the beyond, feasts and old age? But then, would that be a life worth "living"? Would that all be worth it? To never truly taste? To never truly love?

If we are to believe that Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote this masterpiece out of the context that we speak of, it's safe for us to conclude that he decided in the end that to be separated from ones' craft is a death. Is the death, really, as this is how the Lady of Shalott passed away quite literally and graphically! And so we can say that the writer of this poem sees it as the better choice to have stayed in the tower. Or can we? Maybe the writer is saying that death was worth it? For even to experience death, for this Lady, was to experience a bit of life?

My conclusion to this, my take on this, is to think that perhaps the curse is a lie. Perchance all curses are chains and lies? Selfish lies that want you to think yourself bound, so that you may never really live, and what if the true curse lives in the belief of it? Because then you see yourself as dead, already! You see yourself as cursed and shackled and imprisoned because you have put so much belief in the curse! So, what if the Lady of Shalott was already dying? What if THANK GOD before she did die, she was able to feel that air on her skin, the grass below her feet, and set herself assail on a little boat down the river? Has anybody ever thought of it this way?

I think that the curse was a lie and she was already dying as a result of dedicating her life to believing that lie. I'm happy that she at long last turned herself in the real direction for her, even if it was only some moments before it all ended! I believe she died a better death because of her choice to turn away, to leave the tower!

As an artist, as a writer, I am not going to be the Lady of Shalott. I don't want to be like her, dying while living and living only at the very end! I should never become an extension of my writing but my writing should always remain an extension of me. The gist of my life should incarnate every day in the person that I am, and in the choices that I make, the life that I live, live, live, live, live! I want my writing to remain something that I choose to do, therefore something that I can at any moment choose to let go of, without losing myself! I don't want to live so that I may write, I don't want to write so that I may live. I only want to write because I live! And I want to know within myself that if I do stop writing, that will not stop me in any way from living.

What do you think, artist? What do you think, you *the artist's keeper?


*I am referring to the rest of the world as "the artist's keeper" as I believe that the rest of the world is the driving force behind every artist to produce and to create, therefore, you quite literally "keep" the artist as an artist, as well as being "keeper" of the artist by accepting and celebrating the materials he/ she produces.

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  1. Belles, you're too deep for me. I agree with you though, I think the bravest thing was to turn from the mirror and join the "real" world. I think every person has to decide for themselves what role they are willing to let their work or artistry take in their lives. It sounds like you have a great balance and know what you want!

  2. Hi Charity,

    What a beautiful and enchanting song. It really is all about celebrating life, in this world.
    Thanks for sharing and hope that you are having a lovely weekend.
    It is winter over here, but seems to be a lot colder, especially down the South Island where they have had a lot of snow and cold weather, coming up from the Antarctic.



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