What Does Rhetoric Mean to You?
“Who are you as an artist and what do you aim to achieve through your art?”
With eyes fixated at the question, I began to space out. The cursor continued to blink on an empty screen, as my mind remained just as empty. What does the admissions committee want to hear? Would they like it if I told them that I want to change the world through my art, address problems such as climate change, or send across an important moral or ethical message? My stomach churned, breaking the silence of the air, and I felt hungry and sick.
Who am I as an artist?
A month passed and my artist statement for the college portfolio remained incomplete or hadn’t even been started, to be more precise. The exigence of coming up with a stellar artist statement to get into my dream college didn’t prove enough to urge me to start this piece of writing. The Kairos, however, is the one that can be credited for its completion. The evening of 26th December found me standing at a crime scene, by the corpse of my neighbor who had been shot dead, as I gazed at the blood pooling between my legs and felt the uncontrollable urge to write. I rushed back home, sat on my bed and typed frantically for three hours until I finished. It wasn’t until I read my own work after finishing it, that I realized I had just written my artist statement. With myself as the sole audience while writing it, unhindered by the fears and expectations of impressing the admissions committee, I could truly express myself and I ended up writing one of my best works. The question of what the admissions committee wanted to hear still plagued me, but I realized that my essay is mine alone and I couldn’t let it be bogged down or shaped into something that barely represents me to attract or impress an audience. Rhetoric that best represents the writer has achieved its purpose at being an example of efficient and successful communication.
The freedom I gained by allowing myself to be my only primary audience, left my essay feeling raw and imperfect, perhaps even sick. My flaws stood out of the page like a nose on a face. I wrote about the true nature of my art – dark and gothic – and what inspired it – violence and gore. In talking about how I found “fresh blood bespattered over the white of snow, scintillating under the winter sun like rubies secured to a diamond jewellery”, or the death mask of Dante, to be beautiful and fascinating, I might as well have sounded like the next Ted Bundy but I remained true to my inspirations. Unafraid of being judged or ridiculed, I mentioned how my bipolar disorder affected my art and the expectations from it to be “intense and raging with passion.” I allowed bold ideas to come across, saying, “the last thing I want to do is entertain my audience.” By not limiting myself to making rhetorical appeals to readers, my essay flowed effortlessly, conveying my true thoughts and expectations as an artist.
It is in the nature of rhetoric, however, to be inevitably shaped someway or the other, by the audience and the rhetorical ecology. Factors such as restricting the artist statement to eight hundred words, and incorporating an insipid conclusion about how attending that college might assist me in realizing my artistic goals, affected the revised version of my essay and caused me to delete several paragraphs and phrases while ruthlessly cutting it short to meet the word count. Before sending it out, I ran it by my career counsellor, who further encouraged me to change it by ‘toning it down a bit’. The “bipolar disorder” was changed to “mood swings”, and the sentence about me not wanting to entertain but traumatize my audience was modified to a version that was more in accordance with the goals of the entertainment industry. As a result, despite my reluctance at letting the audience or other factors affect my writing, the final draft of my essay was at last an outcome of the exigence of the essay being a part of the college applications and hence being in agreement with the format, and the suggestions of my counsellor to blunt its sharp and raw edges.
How often have you felt, after writing something, that the need to tell the audience what they want to hear, has left your piece representing the audience themselves rather than you as its author? A piece of communication is about the writer himself, before it is about the reader or the affect it has on them. A writer can affect the readers most deeply when instead of attempting to sway them, he expresses himself transparently, and therefore unconsciously appeals to ethos. Rhetoric is the art of masterful communication, which, in spite of being inescapably shaped by the audience and rhetorical ecology, stays true to the writer’s ideas and expresses the writer in his most natural form. My artist statement, which was drafted first for myself, and then the admissions committee at college, is thus an example of rhetoric. While thinking of my audience and how I could successfully appeal to their ethos, pathos and logos and hence persuade them into believing that I’m the best candidate for their program, I found it extremely difficult to write my essay. Propelled to write by the kairos of my neighbor’s death, I composed my essay as a reaction to the traumatic event, keeping myself as its sole audience. Doing so, I believe, helped me to convey my actual emotions and thoughts and draft a successful artist statement that truly represented me as an artist. Even though the eventual change in audience, from myself to the admissions committee, required me to change some things about the essay, I was able to retain ideas that continued to represent me in a raw and unrefined manner.