Art: Shape or Reveal

Nora Haynsworth

Quick Preface: The piece of art I chose is a chapter from my favorite book – The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. This book is organized as the main plot line with what are basically short stories between each chapter and setting details but can stand on their own as well. For the purposes of this paper, I will treat the excerpt as separate from the rest of the book. Please read the story before this essay.
Link to the chapter:

Writing doesn’t come easily to me. This isn’t to say I’m bad at it, or dislike it. In fact, I mlove to write, but my brain doesn’t like fitting itself into neat little organized sentences and ideas. Sometimes when I write, I feel the words overflow with too much meaning, my ideas becoming trapped in too few words. It’s too abstract, the expectations unclear. Despite this (or more likely because of it,) I love reading the writing of others. I’m dazzled by the sheer amount of meaning behind each word, not imprisoning like mine often feel, but showing the path to new possibilities. The story runs away, almost a separate entity from its creator. Because as much as the author intended to put in their words, there are infinitely more unintentional ideas left to be
discovered. The reader is what gives the story meaning, intertwining the story and characters with their experiences, giving new perspective to these past events. A story is an art form that both shapes and reveals things about ourselves.

When we interact with a piece of art, it’s like entering the room with the dollhouse, with the words in the center. We take our own meaning from them, and we share. As people write and discuss the story, they add to it with their own interpretation, making the story more than what it was. Back when I first read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it was more than just a book to me. It’s a huge part of modern culture, and one could literally spend a lifetime reading and writing and talking about different interpretations of it. Because as the world changes and new people read a story, their experiences open up a new doorway of possibility. If the original work is the dollhouse, readers are those who dig through their pockets to find new meanings. We explore ourselves to find what matters, and we can look at the interpretations of others to shape our own. And before we know it, the universe surrounding a work of art is so much more than just the art itself – Frankenstein has infinitely more meanings than Mary Shelley could have ever intended, and that’s okay. It breaks my heart to see people work so hard to find the “true meaning” that they miss the beauty of the other possibilities. This vibrant and beautiful discussion is how pieces of art outlive their creators not just in tangibility but in spirit – because the readers keep that spirit alive.

I think the reason this particular chapter of The Starless Sea resonates with me so much is that it feels like so much more than a story, so much more than an imaginary room in an imaginary place. I see myself in this world of scraps and trinkets and tiny things. I was once small and cut-off like the dolls in their dollhouse – a baby knowing nothing but myself and my family that fed me and talked to me and played with me. But I started noticing the world around me like a solar system with me as the sun. Friends, school, even bus drivers started to have an impact on me, even if unintentionally. People’s actions hurt me, tore me down. But there is always someone there to build me back up, to build something new to add to my dolluniverse. I am a piece of art. I am the story and the story is me. Art shapes us and we shape it back – like Newton’s law – every action with an equal and opposite reaction.

Now, before I know it, I’m 16 and a junior in high school. My dolluniverse is so much larger than I ever could have imagined, getting bigger and bigger by the moment. It is too big for even me to know it all. But I can still explore, and find parts of myself that I haven’t yet noticed: a castle, a lake, a pasture, endless possibilities await. But as thrilling as that is, it can also be scary to look at myself and see such vastness. In those times I remember that I still have the house and the family that feeds me and talks to me and plays with me. The center of my dolluniverse, my anchor. And maybe my family, like everything else, won’t last forever. But if that happens I will have other anchors, the stories I love and that love me back. The people who wrote them and put them out in the world for me to enjoy add to my dolluniverse just as much as any teacher or friend or event that happens in my life. Art has shaped me into the person I am today, writing this paper. And Art will continue to shape me, unshape me, and reshape me until it outlives me, too.