Writing and the Tree of Expression (Not Self-Expression)

photo by S. Thomas Summers

Since I was a boy in grammar school, I’ve been told and believed that the arts are important because they allow those engaged in them to express themselves.

An article in The Mindful World states, “From finger-painting to intricate landscape portraits, Lady Gaga to Chopin, art provokes spiritual wellness. Even before hospitals hired musicians to perform for traumatized veterans during the First and Second World Wars, people have been using art—extensions of the human soul—to cultivate positive changes within themselves and relations with the outside world. While some of us are recovering from an eating disorder and some of us are wounded from a lost love, these difficult experiences develop our unique preferences and deeply connect us to people, images, and sounds, exuding a common struggle or hope.”

However, British poet Geoffrey Hill believes that the “idea that you write to express yourself seems to me revolting. The idea that you write to glorify or to make glorious the art of expressiveness seems to me spot on.”

photo by S. Thomas Summers

Revolting is a strong word and for days I turned that word over and over in my mind. How can the my believe that my poetry is a form of self-expression is revolting. What I write is important! It has merit! It my inner self! Well, once I started contemplating my inner self, I laughed (at myself) and approached Hill’s statement from another angle.

For a moment, imagine that a Christmas tree is really the Tree of Expression; it represents the “art of expression.” Is my poetry responsible for the beauty of said tree? No. In some small way, however, can my poetry add to that beauty. Yes!! My poetry is an ornament on that tree, a small glittering, golden trinket. That ornament, along with the ornaments other writers and artists hang on the tree, help collectively transform the Tree of Expression into a wonderful, beautiful, magical thing. Therefore, when I write, I’m just doing my part. For me, that’s comforting, encouraging. It gives my writing purpose. If my words, my books fail to garner me fame and wealth, it’s okay. I’m not writing for either. I’m writing to help decorate a wonder, beautiful, magical tree.

What say you?


7 thoughts on “Writing and the Tree of Expression (Not Self-Expression)

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  3. I always look on writing – which to me is an abstract artistic expression just like any other, and indeed a way of decorating the mundane – as a device for expressing and transferring emotion. That’s true even of non-fiction, where the emotion may be as simple as the satisfaction of knowing something. And to draw that into your thought – yes, absolutely, as writers we are adding ornament to expression; deepening the wider experience of those who receive it.


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