Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Writing: Art, Craft and Beauty

From the comments to yesterday's post:

Blogger Guerilla Grodd said...
A few weeks ago I was talking to my buddy Gordon, who is a very gifted composer. We were discussing the ongoing debate about the "art" of composing. What is the purpose of music? Is it a pure art form, or does it require a degree of accessibility for the listener? Can a piece of music be commercially viable AND artistically relevant? For whom is music written, the composer or the listener? I think this conundrum is also applicable to writing.

I sat down to address this comment with a firm notion of where I was going with my response. I was going to define "art" as per the academy and then I was going to talk about "craft" and then "beauty" because that "beauty" is where the soul lives. But then I choked. I couldn't get the first part down. I just sat here and turned one question over in my mind: What the fuck is art?

There's art for the sake of art -- although given that I can't find a definition of art that I believe both logically and intuitively in relation to any form of composition, we're going to have to gloss that phrase as meaning there is a reason for doing technically difficult stuff and that reason is that it's technically difficult.

I suppose that's akin to why Olympic athletes choose to do vaults or high dives that are worth a possible 10 points or a possible 9.9 instead of ones they know they can accomplish that are only worth a possible 9.6. But when they're spinning and flipping that fast all I know is that they are air born and that gravity will shortly end their flight. I only know if something went wrong when they don't stick the landing -- or because the commentators told me so. Dangerous, that last one is.

Anyway, I started this because I truly believe the purpose of writing is to produce joy, awe, wonder, to share a moment with the reader and give them something beautiful. That beauty could be sad beauty. It could be comic beauty. It could be poetic, assonance filled literary beauty. It could be scary beauty, or troubling beauty, or whimsical beauty.

I stopped myself short of sleeping beauty so we can all rest easy now that I've admitted my near miss of a bad pun.

Should writing entertain? Entertainment in that sense is a form of beauty, so why not? Should it accomplish other goals? Why not?

For whom should it be accessible? Well it damn well needs to be accessible for the author. I just finished that Nancy Kress interview in The Writer's Chronicle, and that interviewer harps on the woman constantly about "conscious decisions" in regard to genre, content and market needs/demands, and Kress seemed to get really testy because there are only so many ways she can say I wrote whatever came to my mind, I wrote in genres I had read, although I read almost every genre but romance; I didn't pick science fiction writing to make a career of, it happened simply because I was passionate.

Writing that is passionate is ten times closer to beauty, ten times closer to art than writing that is rote and dry because it is what someone else wants.

There's many an agent out there on the internet writing blogs saying yes, this is hot on the market right now, but don't write another novel just like [Twilight] just because it's hot; your novel will be stilted, boring, and the world will move on without your unimpassioned novel.

I'm here to go against the writing of the academy (a notion of contemporary fiction fashioned forty years ago as "artistic" and unanalyzed ever since) and say that writing to the academy simply for the sake of garnering their approval is exactly like writing another Twilight knock-off.

Specifically to Tanya and others in her crises: I think there is a great deal to be gained from learning how to do "academy approved" writing in an MFA program, but that doesn't mean that this is the type of writing you should be doing, nor the type of writing you need to do for the rest of your life.
Blogger Guerilla Grodd said...
... As artists, we can all study the "how" of our respective disciplines, but often we are not quite sure of the "why."

The "why" needs to be because we love it. Otherwise we're doing a whole lot of work for a very tiny profit that we do not give a damn about.


El Johno said...

you had to know, throwing up a quote like that would incite me to write. heheheh

Ah, the conundrum, "What is art?" it's closer to a zen koan, a rhetorical question, or a bathroom limerick than a perceivable question isn't it? Philosophers go on and on about art and aesthetics. what is art, what is beauty, blah blah. After reading far too much and writing long ass papers on the subject, i've decided only one thing: It's different for everyone and coming up with a universal answer is nearly impossible.

Now, as to academic art forms and approachability. In music, i believe the essence of the problem is listening. I say this because of the correlation between visual art and music...meaning...

Abstract Expressionism. The genre of Jackson Pollack and de Kooning, even into the works of Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns is about expression mainly through gesture. It takes Picasso and cubism's level of abstraction to its logical conclusion (in my opinion). Is the art "accessible"? I believe so, especially when someone is told "Its about the gesture and the creation."

Now, take that same idea of abstract gesture and apply it to music and literature. Think of, say...Kathy Acker, James Joyce, Faulkner (shudder), William Burroughs, Thompson, etc. In music, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luciano Berio, Gyorgi Ligeti, Iannis Xenakis, etc. Enough examples. heh.

Anyway, to reach the crux of the argument; abstraction from common practice leads to initial inaccessibility. And in a society where there is both a "common" and a "high" art then there will always been an inaccessibility given to the "high" art, even if it, as it were, not overly inaccessible to the reader or listener. the label adds the function. So, we have one art form and then a second art form that is, in some way, an abstraction from the first. Is abstraction less accessible? in the sense that it takes more than a casual look to understand, than, perhaps. Does it make it an invalid art form? No. does accessibility make it invalid? no. they are simply different.

A larger question is can art serve multiple roles? and the answer, to me, is of course it can. Music and literature are an enjoyment, as well as being a way to push a society to new heights of art. tried to write this over almost 2 hours...i've become confused. Um...Yeah...what was i talking about? shit...

El Johno said...

did i kill this blog? dang it...

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