Sunday, March 27, 2005

A moment for all things High Falutin'

I’ll bet you never guessed, but I want to be a writer. On occasion, I’m given to spouting off about writing and art in general, and this is just such an occasion. If you’re put off by people talking about Art as if it were something important, you might not enjoy this post, and I completely understand – indulgent wankery, all of it. I promise to write more about comics tomorrow.

There are many writers of acclaim – I’ll refrain from naming one because I’ll certainly name the wrong one – who insist on, struggle for, and often seem to achieve a creative process and product that has entirely to do with its authors’ imaginations, and nothing to do with its audience. I often see interviews with writers in which the question is posed whether and how the writer responds to or incorporates feedback from their audience into their ongoing work, and to find the writer reply with something to the effect of a middle finger, an insistence that the audience should not be a part of the creative process at all, that creative work should come solely from its author. In many cases, this results in work that is solely for its author, and often further results in a reputation for pretentiousness and deceptively meaningless efforts.

On the other hand, the bulk of what we usually consider brilliant or important art also tends to come from artists with this attitude.

I’m probably not going to manage to be that kind of writer, because I feel there are some basic compromises that such an exclusive and sweeping philosophy needs to make in order to be sound. I’m always suspicious of dogmatic thinking, and this is no exception.

I think the moment where the whole “My art is, and only should be, about me and from me and for me” approach becomes fallacious is when the product is “finished,” and somehow passed on from the creator to someone else – an audience member, a critic, a publisher or distributor, anyone, anyone to whom the work is given. At this point, we are engaged in communication, which requires some elements of individual compromise not accounted for by the Me school.

One of these requirements is the fact that each party must use a language that the other can understand. The words you use to speak to people didn’t originate in you; you didn’t invent or create them. Originally, and very naturally, you thought in terms of sensory input, in images and sounds and feelings. Verbal language was taught to you as a way of abstracting these sensations so they could be understood by someone who could not or did not share them. The very act of turning the images and sounds in our imagination into written words (or drawings, or songs, or movies) is a compromise of the work’s autonomy. It is a logical admission that what you are doing has a basic function of transmitting an idea or feeling from one individual to another. That connection is hard enough to simply establish - people come from all variety of backgrounds and carry a host of unnamable prejudices and predispositions to the table simply by virtue of having lived a different life than yours - why make it more difficult for them to understand you? Why not do your part to help bridge that gap, and speak in a shared language?

To me, the act of imagining is always an interpretation of something I’ve absorbed; it’s really more an act of transformation than creation. Input comes to me in the form of experience, I make of it what I can, and output leaves in the form of writing or conversation. I don’t feel like I’m really making anything up. What I am doing is trying to make someone else understand how I feel or think. I’m excited about something, and I want that excitement to be shared – positive, negative, or more complex, it’s the excitement that makes me want to write; I want a connection. If I didn’t want or need one, I wouldn’t bother with writing anything out; I’d just sit there and think about it. What drives me to write (or sing/draw/whatever) is the potential to share my excitement with someone else, and it seems foolish to ignore the last half of the equation.

Of course, it's not that simple. If all I did was pander to my audience, the value of my input would be zero. There's a balance to be struck. But that's another can of worms.

Like I said, more about comics tomorrow. Thanks for sticking that out with me.

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