There’s a thing a lot of writers do while writing long works. They deliberately stop in the middle of a chapter or a sentence. Before they get up from the keyboard or tuck the notebook into a drawer, they leave a half-finished thought on the page, a ragged edge that they can pick up and complete to begin their next day. It helps keep them moving forward, much as they will lead readers through the words. A writer is not constrained as tightly as her reader–she may certainly double back, skip ahead, or muddle about in the same spot for a while–but she is inevitably influenced by the fact that the reader will generally experience the work linearly, start to finish. She knows where most people will begin reading. She knows where most of them will finish. In the theatre, there is often an explicit warning on the program: “Latecomers will not be seated until a suitable break in the performance.”
A friend once accidentally snuck into a ticketed gallery exhibition without a ticket. (In her defense, wine and great art were both involved.) As it happened, she entered the gallery from the “wrong end” of the carefully arranged exhibition and wandered upstream like a tipsy salmon before discovering her mistake. Despite seeing it backwards, she loved the work.
Visual artists don’t have the luxurious limitation of knowing where viewers will enter or exit their work.
That pleases me. There’s something egalitarian about it. Viewers can come to a work from any direction. There’s something demanding about it. No matter how viewers arrive, the artist’s mission is to get their attention and do something with it.