There’s a moment in art which drives me. It’s hard to name – you might call it a twist, except that means something else already, similar but just different enough to be insufficient. It’s the moment of friction between the familiar and unfamiliar. The moment where the melody is played, same as it ever was, but the chords underneath are different and the meaning shifts. The moment where the writing on the walls suddenly becomes legible, when we understand not only what was written there but why, by whom, when. It’s the moment when the rabbit is a woman, the faces a vase, when you see how the dress could be four colors at once.
It’s difficult to describe, but it’s one of the most powerful sensations I know. It’s what drives me to make art.
Maybe someone’s already given it a name. Probably. I may just be ignorant here. It’s too important not to have a name. Let’s call it, for now, the moment of recognition. In this moment, we see all the things we already knew come together and form a new meaning. Everything becomes different, even as it’s the same.
I want to cite examples here but every possible example is a spoiler for obvious reasons. The early work of M. Night Shyamalan are good examples – not, again, because there was a ‘twist’, but because that twist emerged from framework established by the rest of the movie – emerged, not from nowhere, but naturally from the heart of the piece. These are twists, but not just twists – this moment doesn’t need to a surprise to be powerful. Often these moments of recognition aren’t surprising at all, just things quietly sliding into place, like fate, like tiles in a mosaic, pixels forming a picture.
How can we create this sensation? Well, there are a few ingredients I think. First: Familiarity. The audience to spend time with the piece, establish some sort of regularity, some understanding of what the world and characters are and mean. Second: Depth. As a creator, you have to know more about your work than your audience ever will. Many people liken it to an iceberg, where only 10% of it is visible above the surface. You need that kind of richness and depth at your disposal, so that when for a moment you reveal a flash of just how far down the ice goes your audience may be chilled. Third: Focus. You need to create a point in the piece where these threads come together, where by their tension against each other they may reveal each other. A fight, a death, a breakdown, something to pull it all together for just a moment.
Well, these are just guesses. I haven’t really struck this gold except in small and perhaps illusive ways. It seems right to me, though. I’ll just keep trying.