Mark Terry

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Artist

March 19, 2011
I confess that I am not comfortable with the type of person that goes around calling themself "an artist." I had a very good friend (who died tragically at the age of 47 just a year ago) who was very much an "art for art's sake" type of person, who would repeatedly say, "If the artist says it's art, then it's art." Which was how modern artists can pile up bubblegum in a corner and call it art or nail a short piece of rope to a wall and call it art.

I'm skeptical.

I have always been an art for commerce kind of guy, although that's probably not really true. I've done fine as an amateur musician over the course of 30 years or so simply playing because I liked to play. Granted, I taught piano for a while and I did it for money (why in the hell else would you want to teach piano, I'm inclined to ask), and when I was in high school I was the designated junior choir accompanist at the church and had a monthly honorarium of $50 for it. (An elderly gentleman with a fair chunk of money who was enamored with music at the church left a decent amount of money to the church for just this sort of purpose when he passed away, God bless him).

Recently I've been busy with paying work, frustrated with the publishing industry, my agent, and my own writing efforts, so I haven't really been writing fiction. I'm also curious to see if I miss it (jury's still out, but I've been sick this last week, so I haven't been much interested in doing anything but sleeping).

It does strike me that I might be far happier with Ye Olde Fiction Writing if I do it because I want to do it, not because I expect to make any money at it. Which does make the e-self-publishing market a far more pleasant experience than all the other hoop-jumping aspects of fiction writing.

A buddy of mine and I had a cordial disagreement over a piece of his writing that in many ways I thought showed our inherent writing philosophies. And yet, Steve told me he got what he wanted out of that piece of writing (I did not, no matter how many times I read it). And sometimes, recently anyway, I've been contemplating that statement he made to me: I got what I wanted out of the experience.

I'm not 100% sure what it was he got, but part of it was to tell the story he wanted to tell in the way he wanted to tell it without regard, necessarily, for its publishability or even pleasing, er me.

And I know for a fact that when I have anything resembling writer's block, it's because I'm obsessing about whether the work in question is going to be publishable. But if I accept that it will be simply because I'm going to publish it, perhaps all that angst goes away and I can enjoy the process once again.

Because, frankly, if you don't enjoy the process of writing and you're not making much money at it, there has got to be a better way to spend your time.



Anonymous Lisa Ahne said...

I think I get where you are coming from. I have been obsessed with writing and acting since I was a little girl. I acted in college and still do in my community and church. My writing has been sporadic. I love to write and am constantly thinking of story lines. I daydream all the time. But I rarely finish anything. Part of that is because I lack discipline. It is a horrible flaw. A lot of it is b/c I start the process and then suddenly I start thinking about will I be able to get it published. Once it is finished I will have to submit queries, find an agent. Send it to a house that doesn't require an agent (I believe there are still some Harlequin lines that don't require agent submissions...but I'm not sure since it has been long time since I bothered to look.)Then I think about how long I will have to wait to see if they are even interested. Then I think about how long it will take to publish even if they buy it. By the time I think of the months or years that I would have to wait to sell a piece after it is written, it kind of stops me cold. I still want to finish my story and I still love writing. But the whole process (even thinking about it) has made me exhausted. The fact that I decide when my work gets published and what gathers dust in a file cabinet (thanks to ebooks) I have a lot more motivation. I know I am supposed to write just for the love of it...and believe me I do plenty of that. But I admit that my longer works get pushed back just because I let myself get sidetracked into thinking about the next step. I know that is not a good thing. But I am looking forward to seeing what I can do now that I know I am in complete control of my work. I don't have to wait for a handful of people to validate me. Sorry I babbled a bit.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Stephen Parrish said...

It may surprise you to hear that I think we're in fundamental agreement.

The guy who slings paint at a canvas is no more an artist than a chimpanzee who slings turds at a zoo visitor. Art is communication, and the extent to which an alleged piece of art succeeds in communicating its message is the extent to which it succeeds as a piece of art. The writer who writes "only for herself" is not a writer in any professional sense.

The story in question, the one I submitted to you, did indeed fill a need in me; a need to express a particular mood (anyone who wants to read it need only ask). You rejected it. No biggie; I've been rejected a couple of hundred times and I don't take it personally.

My story didn't resonate with you. Therefore it failed.

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

I have never bought into (if that's the way to put) art for art's sake. In my case, although I know it is egotistical, I write (or in the past drew) to please an audience. I have always enjoyed reading and what I want to do is to entertain others the way I've been entertained.

When I was in grade school my friends and I would sit in the back of the room during arithmetic and draw cartoons on our tablets and show them to each other and hopefully we'd crack each other up. We would sit out in a dark corner of the yard on a summer night with only a flashlight and tell each other ghost stories and see who could scare everyone the most. It wasn't whether we found our cartoons funny or scared ourselves with our ghost stories, it was about the audience.

Unfortunately, at a certain level, with writing, it is pretty damn hard to find an audience unless you have a publisher, and unfortunately, unless you get paid to write you can't just sit in the back of the room, ignoring the teacher and write.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

I think it's great to have the skill of practicality and some business sense, but in order to avoid burnout, I believe we have to cultivate and nurture the whole artist thing. In general, artists tend to be strivers, driven by learning and improving. It's definitely a different mindset than, say, my parents, who did the whole 9-5/same job thing for decades. (To my students, I always called that sort complacents.)

I definitely think complacents are much happier than strivers, but the world wouldn't turn without the strivers.

I also believe that one has to work at and invest a lot of effort in loving the craft and loving fiction, in general. Inspiration is something we have to create. It's definitely a thing where you get what you put into it.

And, we tend to believe the opposite, but study after study proves that we humans are not all that motivated by money; we're mostly motivated by improving and mastering new skills.

12:19 PM  
Blogger rkfinnell said...

I admit I have found myself rolling my eyes when I read comments about why people write. I find most of them a bit melodramatic and over the top. Most people don't get the snark when I say I write because the words must go somewhere.
I write because I can and I like it, but I like making money too. Probably more than I like writing, to be honest. I appreciate my ability to use my wildly warped imagination, but I don't live and breathe because of it.

7:37 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I think we were probably a lot closer on that story than you think. Did you and I and Jude ever agree on anything by the way? Because if we did, I should start writing.

3:54 PM  

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