Friday, January 13, 2012

Pulling all the pieces together

Over the last four posts, I've given you guys a brief glimpse into the history of Western art and the Idea of Artist.

Yes, I've skipped over a ton of stuff, yes, I've generalized, yes, I've waved my opinion around like a red flag in front of a bull. I confess, I wrote all five of these posts in a single afternoon (since it was sort of one, long continuing thought), so undoubtably there are gaps in information and loose-logic.

I love art, just as I love writing, so don't get me wrong and think I'm trying to demonize the institution.

Elitism in all forms bothers me. It's when we start drawing lines that we start marginalizing other people.

The idea that art is somehow this untouchable, holy, genius-inspired wonderful thing that the unwashed masses can only struggle to understand and capture... I think that's a load of salesman-crap.

As a culture, Westerners value intelligence, education and experience. When something is valuable, it has worth. It has merit. Art, just like writing, is a process of refining technique, training your eyes, your brain, your hands. Like any profession, it's a matter of specializing. It requires hard work, time and effort.

In her post, Janice Hardy said this:

But going back to the "agents killing art" post...

With the vast technologies available to us today, I found myself thinking about writers who just want to create art. They can put up blogs for free and start creating, making their work available to everyone to read. Nothing is stopping them. Agents aren't killing their art because art can't be stopped when you can display it where millions can see it for free. (of course, getting millions to come see it is another story).

If the sole goal is to create art, then why is it necessary to get an agent and sign a deal with a major publisher? Isn't the goal of getting an agent and signing with a big publisher so that you can make money? They are, after all, a business, and the goal is to make money by selling books that are commercially viable. By selling product, not art. Just as I don't try to sell watercolors to my design clients, I wouldn't try to sell something to a publisher that wasn't a commercial product--a sellable book.

If you're complaining that agents won't take you on because you won't make them money, isn't that admitting that money is what you're really after? Not the distribution of art? Because you can publish without an agent or a big publisher if you aren't in it for the money. Or the prestige of being with a big publisher. Or the validation of having pros in the industry say "yes, we think your work is good enough to sell."

So, can writing be art? Or is it commercial?

Why was Shakespeare so successful and popular? His purpose was to write plays that drew in audiences and sold theatre tickets. How can you not call that commercial? Dickens was paid by the word to fill newspapers. Do you think that's wrong?

Shakespeare understood how to communicate with his audience, so he was successful in selling his Ideas.

Steve Jobs was all about the user experience. By making Mac products easy to use and reliable, he became successful.

Honestly, I don't see a division between Western art and product. It's all about selling Ideas, the only difference is whose idea is getting sold. If we're going to marginalizing writing/writers as mere entertainers who offer up fantastical worlds, gritty underworld crime, idealized romance, beautiful and noble heros and heroines fighting the dark and evil forces, or the every-man struggling for the most basic of needs...

...well, that's the subject matter of the Louvre's collection right there...

Writers are selling an experience, a world, characters, story, and Idea, the same as an artist is. It's the heart of the story, which I've blathered on about more than once. Your ability to successfully sell that is no different than Michelangelo, and he didn't get paid for the pieces his patron didn't like.

Just like a badly-made product won't sell. I have nearly destroyed two different cell phones because the menu systems were so incomprehensible. I will never again buy one of those brands. Sure, those cell phones were a heck of a lot cheaper, but there's a reason the iPhone is so widely used...

...and why I use a Mac.*

You have to work hard to make your Idea, your message, understood. You have to think of the audience, think of their user experience.

I've said before that if the meaning of your writing is not being understood, it's your fault as a writer for not being clear, not the reader's fault. It is a failure to properly communicate the Idea. If you are stomping your feet like a child throwing a tantrum and saying, 'You don't understand my writing!' you're never going to convince others that your writing has merit. You need to work for it, improve your skills so you can effectively communicate with your audience.

In the original post accusing agents of killing art, all I see is an unprofessional so wrapped up in the Idea of being an Artist that they don't care about honing their skills to make their work understood, and therefore accessible, to those who would buy it. It's arrogance, pure and simple.

If you love your work, if you have pride in it, you should try to make it the best that it can be.

Alcar already made mention of this in the comments last time, but:

My life-drawing teacher in university once told my class that if you want to be a successful artist, you have to want people to see your paintings. If all you do is create art for yourself, what you're doing is essentially (not my term...) "artistic masturbation". You're not an artist.  All you're doing is pleasing yourself. That's not a professional attitude.

And I think writing is the same thing. You have to want to please other people to actually reach them.

I think that's the main difference between people who are writers and people who write. The professional attitude and commitment that drives them to improve their work. Artists are the same. People mock Jackson Pollock and say all he did was throw paint on a canvas, but he discarded hundreds, if not thousands of paintings he felt weren't up to standard. Even Leonardo DaVinci re-painted the Mona Lisa, re-posed her, re-imagined her, re-worked her.

Artists can't be successful without making sales, and neither can writers.

So what do you think? how was my sales-job? For those of you who actually hung in here with me through these extremely nerdy posts, do you think any differently about art and writing? And really, does it all even matter? Do we need these hard divisions to validate, or justify what we like and why we like it?

*I shan't get into my thoughts on Microsoft... just that, the more you know about how and why something is the way it is... well, let's say I've lost faith in Microsoft ever putting the user-experience before the almighty dollar.


  1. Dancing is an art form. Writing is an art form. Painting is an art form. Illustrations for anime? Yep, a form of art. Whether commercial or for self-expression, Art is Art. Agents can't kill something that can exist without them, which art can do. However, agents can play their part in the commercial steam of getting a story into the hands of a publisher. That's their part.

    In my humble opinion, of course.

  2. Most everyone that writes these days is not doing so to fulfill some sense that they are an artist. They are doing so because they feel entitled to fame and dream of money and being a role model for others. Hence the whole Agent thing is a ticket, like a badge, that they can use to add credence to their ability in feeling superior. That's just what I think.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this post. I hate the hipocracy that artists can sometimes have about their work.

  4. @ Angela

    Exactly. You can't call it humble when you're 100% correct ;)

    @ Michael

    Yes, so caught up in the Idea of being a *famous author* that they've lost sight of the actual *work*. So many things go wrong when people feel they are *entitled*... Personally, I think if you truly want to write, to reach your audience, you'll be less caught up in the Idea of *writer* and spend your time actually writing.

    @ prerna

    Thanks! I'm glad a few people were interested in my long-winded nerdy posts, and that hypocrisy is what made me quit *fine arts* in the first place and start training in animation. 'cause, y'know, animation can't be *Art*... Seriously, the attitude some of those art students had nearly killed my love of it... but I think that's wrong too, that getting frustrated at their attitude made me pull away from it. In the end, it was my loss :)

    That's why I wholeheartedly believe that I can like what I like, and I don't care who agrees with me ;) the stone squirrel-parrot sitting on my bookshelf ;)

  5. You know, Ms. Monkey, as I read your postscript/footnote on Microsoft, I realized that that there analogy is exactly what it's about, this art vs. entrepreneurship. Microsoft undoubtedly creates (or manufactures or designs or sells or steals, whatever) great software, great pieces of equipment. BUT their focus is on the dollar, not the user experience. Apple was (hopefully it will remain) all about the user--from the packaging, how everything just *works*, the look and feel of the products. Both enterprises manufacture and market products, yes, but one focuses on income and--for the sake of example, let's call them "mercenary"--while the other, although by no means a charity foundation dedicated to providing spiritual enlightenment altruistically, does focus on a more human thing: the *experience*, the accessibility.

    So... As writers, we're indeed entrepreneurs. We do need to sell our work, one way or the other. Perhaps not for money, but certainly for acceptance and for audience. There's the Microsoft way of doing that: trashy fiction has always *always* sold incredible numbers. And then there's the Mac way: focus on the experience, give your "customers" a sense of uniqueness, make your product stand out--not just because it's a good story, but because it's *the* story. Before it gets out there, make sure everything--*everything*--works.

    Great post!

  6. @ Guilie

    Honestly, I would have to disagree with your statement about them creating/selling great software/products. There is zero quality control and zero accountability. If I buy/install a stick of RAM and suddenly my printer stops working... that's beyond mercenary or trashy fiction.

    I would hold Microsoft up and compare it to a fan-fiction story of epic proportions where every single line is written by someone else, most of whom English is not their first, or second language.

    1. Bwahaha! Love this analogy!
      My husband and I have used Macs for xxyears (eons) and wouldn't use anything else. My time is worth a lot to me.

      also, I like your ideas on art and artists. My BA is in design, but I ended up as a copywriter/editor. I like both, but get much better kudos from my writing. So I write.

  7. @ SanWrites

    After working on almost every kind of computer and with almost every kind of major OS, I agree, my time is worth more than the constant fiddling and problems that come out of a Microsoft based system.

    There are some things I don't mind spending time on, but constantly fighting with my computer and not trusting that it's going to work when I need it to... that's just not going to happen.

    I think, often the labels we put on things tends to skew the way we view something. If you strip off all the jargon & BS, and really look at the meat and bones, you have something entirely different than whatever candy-coloured promise is plastered to the exterior.

    ...which is also the reason I do 95% of my own renovations. Just 'cause the outside looks pretty, doesn't mean the interior isn't completely held together with gobs of caulk and duct tape.


Type me out a line of Shakespeare or a line of nonsense. Dumb-blonde-jokes & Irish jokes will make me laugh myself silly :)