Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Art, With a Big "A"
I doubt it's as easy to be a critic as I like to think, but it's certainly easy to criticize, especially ourselves. So many times I catch myself side-tracking my creative process with concerns that what I'm doing or making or writing or drawing isn't good enough without batting that self-destructive question back to my inner critic (which is where all such stupid questions originate) with a "good enough for what?" Another good follow-up is for whom?
If you love art and the Arts (with a big A), it can be easy to confuse your creative process and what you do with sum total greatness of the greats who came before you. If you're really hard on yourself, you'll even pretend Rembrandt and Keats were not beholden to market factors like finding funding, reaching the right audience, and paying rent.
None of them--let me say that again because it's important and bears repeating--NONE WERE GREAT FROM THE START! Every great artiste drops some pretty stinky bombs on occasion, some which sell and some that don't. And they all have to eat.
Even the jokers who had patrons a-plenty in their pockets, the ones who slept with all the right people or had perfect raw talent straight out of the womb, even they (and I've no idea who I'd be talking about now) self-censored, catered to the tastes of others, were frustrated by the limits of their own talent and materials, prayed for more or less time, better inspiration, faster results and more efficient productivity.
Art does not begin as Art. It doesn't typically finish as Art, either. It starts small, sometimes as only a fraction of an idea or feeling. Sometimes it's allowed to find its way like a child in the woods, learning and evolving as goes. Other times, like a child in the woods, it gets battered or eaten, its remains found by the child-ideas tripping along behind it, who then run back to you shattered and scarred...
Maybe not the best simile.
I sometimes hear people say movies or television are so formulaic.
"Oh, snore. That's so predictable."
Well, of course it's predictable. Shakespeare is predictable. You knew it was predictable, you wanted it to be predictable, that's why you chose to be an audience in front of a screen or stage instead of doing extreme sports or taking over a small country or whatever else you might've done during that time. The trick (and if you can pull this off in your writing, your audience will love you forever) is to wed predictability with freshness. Part of the delight of experiencing art (and the skill involved in making it) is when something absolutely predictable still manages to surprise. But if you write within the genre, the patterns and structure will still be there. There will be a beginning. There will be a problem. It will get complicated. After significant struggle, there will be a resolution, often from some seemingly minor detail you remember from waaaay back at the beginning. And when it's over, you'll feel smarter than the formula but satisfied your expectations were met. After all, it's not free-form space-jazz accompanying alien performance art you're viewing, it's mass-market entertainment, and if it didn't hit your specific yippee-button this time or alter your very existence, tough nuts. That's your job. That's called living.
If you're an artist or a writer, the last thing you should think about is whether or not what you're making is Art. At minimum, it is art, no question, so start there. Focus on the purpose, on the idea, on the thing itself, and if that means focusing on the deadline or the frame or the project specs or the forumula, do that. Because everything that ever went from art to Art first had to be made.