Wednesday, September 7, 2011

the art of getting out of (or in) the way

Yesterday, I got an email that contained various comments on the dwindling status and importance of good writing. Nowadays, one of the comments suggested, writers are increasingly asked to answer every wing-nut observation or critique and explain their writing. Literature had lost or was losing its status. When everyone's opinion held equal import, standards were eroded and everyone became a prostitute for their emotions.

There was a time when the writer's objective was to tell his or her story ... and get the fuck out of the way. Writers (and other artists) pined within for the moments when they were struck by the muse and somehow the art flowed all by itself. It was a seldom-realized dream, but each remembered the few moments once-upon-a-time, when it had been realized and, hot damn!, it was delicious and true and lacked any doubt whatsoever. They did their best to get out of the way so that they could once again actualize that deliciousness: When I get out of the way, now that's art, that's writing, that's music!

There was the effort to get out of the way.

Nowadays, the effort has reversed course. The recognition that it is damn near impossible to get out of the way -- that it takes more discipline and effort and pure dumb luck -- has led to a kind of surrender: Why fight it? Go with the "me" flow. So there is an uptick in self-aggrandizement. The story or the painting or the music is not the point ... I am the point. And there is little or no recognition that "I" am not really all that interesting in a wider sense. To me, I'm fascinating; to you, I am, as often as not, a bore. The unwillingness to try to get out of the way is a kind of weak artist's version of "fuck you!"

The result is a kind of endless circle jerk... no one getting any good sex and everyone imagining the sex is grand.

Well, I've kind of veered off course here. The email I got implicitly bemoaned the dwindling acclaim for something called good writing and a widely-held agreement that it really was very good. Shakespeare, Balzac, Tolstoy ... now THAT was literature ... great literature ... and not acknowledging it is a great loss. And more, sinking to the lowest common denominator is enough to frost your cookies.

I can't say that I care much for the wing-nut, me-first approach to art. A lack of awareness of the culture around us strikes me as unfortunate at best and idiotic at worst. Culture draws people together even if it also underscores the loneliness of experience. Beauty may be subjective, but the role of beauty is not open to debate in my opinion. On the one hand, I can see the sorrow. But on the other, I think artists need to learn to live with the facts: To choose to do art is just that, a choice. It's an ego trip. It's no better or worse than other ego trips, but it needs to be acknowledged that it is an ego trip. As such, no one is bound to agree with the ego-tripper. And the ego-tripper has no grounds on which to argue that, because art is elevated, it deserves reverence and awe from one and all... i.e., love me, I'm an artist.

I'm a sucker for beauty ... or what I consider beauty. To be carried away is so delicious. It's better than chocolate and I am thankful to those artists who created something that could fly me to the moon. I am grateful that they made the effort and, from my point of view, got out of the way so that I might soar.

Yes, I am grateful -- but not grateful enough to listen to artists who whine. If someone writes or paints or composes, that's a choice. If there's a choice in the world that doesn't have a down side, I'd love to hear about it. But I have enough down sides to cope with in my life based on choices I have made. Do you really suppose that I am going to relieve you of a responsibility that is yours? You whine, I whine, we all whine and the answer is everywhere and always the same: Tough titty! Deal with it.

Get out of the way.


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