The other day Jess wrote something wonderful, and I told her it needed to be shared. It was funny, insightful and sometimes personal, and it was this latter trait that she was hung up on. Why would anyone want to hear about her little hang-ups and random thoughts? What if someone was offended? I identify with these questions, but I also think I’ve managed a bit of transcendence beyond them and their talons. It is from that hard fought experience that I wish to share a few thoughts.
Thought #1: What is Art?
I don’t have a complete answer to this question, but I have notched a few of its characteristics into my mind. I hate and have always hated what I am about to say. You must understand that I don’t have the mind of an artist, of a creative type. I want all the boxes checked, all the buttons done up proper, and all the answer straight, concise, logical and as uncomplicated as possible. I don’t thrive in ambiguity—I try to commit homicide on ambiguity whenever I get the chance. But here is the thing I hate that I can no longer run from:
Art is different things to different people.
I am not ok with this. When I see “modern art” in a museum I will not shut up about how much I hate it, about how it isn’t truly art at all but someone who let their mind throw up on a canvas. Jess and I were at a museum a few months ago and I would not stop articulating how lowly so much of what I was seeing was, and she let me know that I better figure out how to stop it—quickly. But I cannot escape that there are some works of art (by this I mean music, movies, books etc.) that I cherish, and yet others would just as soon see fire set to them. The other thing is that James Joyce, Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, and Dostoevsky are all telling stories in incredibly different ways—and they’re all brilliant. Two of these authors I am in no way a fan of, but I understand that they are brilliant. If you only read Stephen King and then someone showed you Kurt Vonnegut you’d say, “This isn’t a book,” and you’d scratch your head in confusion—you’d have no frame of reference to judge by. It is ok that I don’t like Kurt Vonnegut, unfortunately it is not ok for me to tell you that you shouldn’t like him either. He is a brilliant mind and writer, yet I don’t think I’d pay $15 to own his entire collection. A lot of people like Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections.” I haven’t read it myself, but Stephen King said he wanted to throw it across the room, and then return, maybe, but only to piss on it. How is it possible that such a well regarded author could hate so deeply the work of another well regarded author? I didn’t write the rules, and I don’t understand why it should work this way. But it does.
What I’m talking about is freedom. The fact that brilliance can go so unappreciated should liberate you. Please, do your thing, I might even tell you it’s shit—if you like it, if it pleases you, then you need to ignore me.
Thought #2: Count the Cost
This is what I told Jess about her dilemma. People often respond well when they know that it cost you something to put those words on that page. Truth never fails to play a chord that resonates in the human soul. When you break through that façade that we all put on for each other, people take notice. If it hurts to see it on the page, you’re probably going in the right direction. Not all good writing requires pain, but it does require a cost. If it was easy, you may have a problem on your hands. But that isn’t always true, so be careful. I don’t want what Joyce is selling, but I do accept that he had to pay a lot to get it out there.