To welcome in the new year, I'm going to bore you guys... so be prepared for at least a week of extremely nerdy posts.
Ever since I hopped into Janice Hardy's discussion on writing and art (my link) way back in October, I've been thinking, on and off, about art and writing. Originally this came about from a post on Janet Reid's blog commenting on another post accusing agents of killing *artistic*/literary books 'cause agents are only interested in making money, not art.
Can writing be art? Can art be writing?
Hardy's post touched on so many interesting ideas (so I encourage you to read the original post in its entirety, but first let's look at this:
To me, art is something that transcends. It inspires, captures emotion, causes emotion in others. It makes us think. It's goal is simply to be. (And I understand not everyone will have this same definition)
A painting can do this. So can music. We can look and listen and take something from the experience. But writing? I'm not so sure. We take things away from a story, but a story is different from plain writing. How many read to experience just the beauty of words on a page? Perhaps poetry is writing's art form. It does everything my definition of art does. It's not so much about telling a greater tale, but about evoking emotion.
One thing I want to clarify. I do feel that writing itself is an art. My question is more about where books stand and if they were indeed an art form in and of themselves, or a product and thus the commercial application of an artistic skill.
She also linked another post which was responding to hers. The quick version is:
People write to create images, worlds and stories that never existed until we imagined them. Just because it can only be seen in the mind doesn't mean it isn't art. When I read I feel so strongly for the characters (if it's a good book). Every time I read Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine I rock back and forth with Ella in the end and wait for her to break the curse. I have to catch my breath, I squeal with anticipation and yell at the characters. They confuse me, anger me, make me laugh; I could go one, but I won't.
C.S. Lewis created Narnia and it became so real for me that I thought "what if". Isn't it possible that there are other worlds?
To me it's about making the reader think outside their comfort zone. To ask questions is how we challenge what we think we know and broaden our senses. That is what art is. It can also be a product, but ultimately, isn't it so much more?
So, ultimately, what is art?
Well, I'm going to annoy you by saying there really isn't a set definition of art. Many people have tried to pin it down, but no one agrees, primarily because everyone's creating and critiquing it from different cultures, different times, different needs and different goals. As these things change/evolve, so does the definition of art.
History is written by the winner, right? Well, so is what we view as culturally and morally acceptable. Child-brides anyone? Age of consent? Prostitution? The legalization of certain drugs? Does a murderer have the right to live? How about dictators, cult-leaders, politicians, marketing/sales, war, mining, child-labour, pollution, seal-clubbing, etc? Should McDonalds be allowed to burn half the Amazon rainforest to make cattle ranches for their quarter pounders? How about soft-drink companies leaping into Vietnam to establish their products, not only on the day the war ended, but within the hour?
Our history, our philosophies, our culture, these things colour the words we use and the ideas we exchange and fight for, and since art is also a form of language, how could it be any less convoluted/complex?
What struck me as most interesting about both these passages is that both Hardy and M.E. (the person who responded) suggested that art and emotion are tied together.
Is emotion necessary to consider something 'art'? Is it one of the fundamental characteristics?
This is actually a very Western-central idea. Considering M.E.'s profile picture has a road sign in MPH, I'm assuming he/she is American, and I know Janice Hardy is American.
I'm Canadian, so I can't say I'm any less Western-centric in upbringing, but growing up on the west coast, there is a much higher infusion of Indigenous and Asian art/culture than in the rest of North America, which is primarily influenced by European and, to a lesser degree, African art traditions.
SO, for the sake of keeping within the scope of 'art + commercial products', I think it's logical to stick to Western art. It wouldn't be fair to, say, start talking about Buddhist monuments in SE Asia, Indonesian shadow theatre, Mogollan baskets, Borneo tribal tattoos or Haida totems.
When we talk about writing, we mostly talk about *Western* authors, European and American (I'm including USA & Canada in that word), so I think it's only fair to stick to the same kind of art. Apples to apples, right?
I honestly don't think there's any right or wrong answers here, what I'm most interested in are the different ideas/thoughts/opinions on this subject, the evolution of what art is, was and can be.
So, feel free to disagree, throw in your own examples/etc, but remember we're sticking to Western writing, art, philosophy, etc.
Oh, and one more thing I wanted to be clear about before we start... I'm going to be using the term, 'sell' a lot. By this, I am primarily referring to the idea of convincing someone of the merit/worth of something else.
You can't sell something that is worthless, whether it be an idea or an object. Both parties need to be in agreement about the value of something.
Does that make sense?