Skip navigation

This one’s kind of a complicated subject, and was inspired by the latest Penny Arcade comic. How many of you feel that what you do as a writer actually counts as art?

I say yes. I know that some people would disagree with me.  However, I feel that a well written story or poem, regardless of the formal training  behind it, can be just as beautiful as some works of art, and far more impressive than others. I’ve read some pieces that, while incredibly well-written, strongly structured, and clearly organized, did absolutely nothing for me in terms of evoking an emotional response, and I’d consider them almost trash. Are those stories art? Much like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder (along with antimagic, disintegrate, etc., but I digress).

I know that my feelings on certain pieces change based on my age, my own life experiences, and my state of mind when I am reading it. Therefore, there are some books that I pick up on a regular basis. My love for Tolkien remains undiminished throughout the years, no matter how many times I’ve read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Other authors, I attempted to read in junior high or high school, and were totally dismissed at the time. Later on, particularly thanks to my degree, I would read them again, and I found that my tastes had changed. For example, let’s take Willa Cather. When I was a junior in high school, my English teacher taught Cather as a standard in his curriculum because she was his favorite author, and had lived where he had lived. That year, I attempted to read Death Comes for the Archbishop. I found it painful and dull, and questioned the relevance of Cather’s work.

Four years later, now a third-year English major (in part thanks to the influence of said English teacher), I read Willa Cather again, this time tackling The Professor’s House. With far more reading experience under my belt, I dove headlong into the book, and I finally found myself enjoying Cather’s prose. This time, I was fascinated by her characters, and eventually took it upon myself to revisit Death Comes for the Archbishop. Now that I was more accustomed to her writing, I realized that I really liked Cather, and was happy to add her to my list of favorite authors. I went through a nearly identical process when I first encountered Stephen King. Granted, I started with Desperation. Also granted, I was in fifth grade. Still, King’s writing style didn’t appeal to me. A couple of years later, however, I picked up The Green Mile, having seen the film version. It was, I guess, a more mild story, but it allowed me to adapt my mind to King’s writing form and characterization. Now I find myself hard-pressed to find King books that I’ve not read.

Based on my first impressions of both of these authors, I wouldn’t have called either of them artists. Skilled at their craft, yes, but neither Cather nor King would have kept my attention long enough for me to care. For whatever reason, I decided to give them another look, and that’s when I found the art. Now I feel that I’m able to see it far more often. In my own work, I’m trying to find the balance between craft and art. There’s only so far that formal training and technical approaches can take you. If you’re not putting feeling into what you’re writing, then you might as well quit now.

 

4 Comments

  1. Try ‘My Antonia’ if you haven’t already. I wasn’t a huge fan of Cather, but I still sort of enjoyed the poignancy of the book.

    • Thanks for the recommendation! I’ve added it to my list. Ah, the joys of working at a library… Cather definitely takes some getting used to, and in my case, a semester dedicated to showing us how awesome she and her contemporaries actually were. She’s not for everyone, but I’m happy to read her books now.

  2. Your experiences of revisiting works that may have repelled the fifth-grade Philip are exactly like my own musical journey. That’s one of the many beautiful things about enjoying any art form – we’re constantly exploring, developing and expanding our once narrow “comfort zones” as our sense of perspective and understanding grows and matures. Life is so much more exciting when one has such an intellectual curiosity and open mind as yours…

    • Spot on, Joseph. Maturation is highly visible when we look back at our tastes then and compare them to our tastes now. I could say the same for my tastes in music, film, even food. I think Willa Cather’s style was one of the bitter tastes in my literary history, but now, like coffee and beer, I’ve come to like her prose.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: