Reaction to any piece of work is analogous to an orchestra playing the work of a composer.  The trumpet does not sound like the violin which does not sound like the flute.  Yet they are all playing the same piece and we probably do not know the music that played in the mind of the composer as he or she wrote the piece.  The trumpet or the violin is not better than the flute:  they are simply different.  I contend that reading is a contact sport.  When we read, we play on the instrument of our minds.

What do we do when we discuss a text or an art object or a piece of music?  Well one thing that we can do is talk about how the text is put together.  This is a discussion of craftsmanship.  If we are talking about a written text, we have to deal with the denotation or dictionary definition of words and with the connotation of the words which is how they are being used in a particular context.

For better or for worse both the denotation and the connotation of words change over time.  consider Stephen Foster's popular song, "My Old Kentucky Home" (1852).  Most of us are familiar with the song in that it is sung with great gusto each year at the Kentucky Derby.  The song was a favorite of Black 19th century civil rights leader, Frederick Douglas.  The song is full of nostalgia and the view of the black slaves that one sees in the song is significant.  The homestead is gone and the harder life on a sugar plantation may lie in the near future.  The song is sung today with the lyrics changed.  Could you sing the original lyrics in today's politically correct world?  What do you do with the words, "and the darkies are gay?"

Usually the more we know about the craft of writing or sculpting or painting the better we can discuss a work.  People often speak of the task of analysis as interpretation.  The word interpretation itself comes from the Latin and means "to enter into the fathers," no small task.  Society changes.  Often discussion deteriorate into a discussion of minute detail.  Some think that the more complicated the explanation, the better.

Discussion of craftsmanship sometimes must include what artists call "closing out the form."  This means to produce a version of a thing (song, poem, painting, story, etc.) such that no subsequent version of that thing can replace what you have done.  Otis Redding wrote and performed the song "Respect" (1967).  Redding himself remarked that the song had been taken away from him by a young girl.  "Respect" belongs forever to Aretha Franklin.  Aretha's version of "Respect" is the version to which all other versions are and will be compared.  In the same vein Michelangelo, having received the commission to produce a monumental study of the biblical David, seized the opportunity and tried to produce a statue that was David but what at the same time was his conception of the physically perfect man.

Some might wish to discuss what the author meant to do.  Sometimes artist tell us nothing.  Sometimes artists are not always candid.  Authors Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut have suggested that we receive what artist say about their work with some skepticism.  My golf swing is a result of serious study of the suggestions of some of the game's greatest players, but the simple truth is that my explanation hides the fact that I am incapable of hitting the ball any other way!

One might choose to discuss things that suggest themselves.  One might choose to discuss religious language in "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." One might choose to discuss something that is only suggested by the art or text.  The next to last article I wrote before retirement was suggested by an opportunity to review a book "Friday Night Fighter," which was a treatment of the life and career of boxer, Gasper Ortega.  this inspired me to write a treatment of boxing in the 1950's and 1960's especially as it existed in the neighborhood boxing clubs in New York City which were the minor leagues for that sport.  I was able to return to those great times with my father on Monday nights at St. Nicholas Arena with the air above the ring blue from the smoke of the dry twisted cigars of the old Italian American gentlemen seated at ringside while boys like me feasted on blocks of ice cream wrapped only in small sheets of wax paper.

Responses to art can cover a variety of things.  No one kind of response is by definition better than another.  Art can only live so long as people care to discuss it.  What you want to do is to be clear so that others can understand the context of your remarks.