June 29, 2010

A Portrait of the Artist as... an Artist?

I've been thinking a lot lately about writing as an artform, and, taking that a step further, wondering what the purpose of that artform is. Am I writing as a mode of self-expression? For saleability and marketability? For a point of connection with my humanity, by connecting with other humans? What?

The notion that my chosen artistic expression has come down to what's marketable and what isn't is depressing and emotionally numbing.

While reading THE WEEKEND (by Peter Cameron) last night, I discovered this:

"I think if painting--indeed, if art in general--is to survive, let alone matter, it must become reconnected to life as we live it."

"Who's we?"

"People," said Lyle.  "The man--or woman--in the street. Painting can't be just for painters. That's problem with music. When any art form becomes a dialogue of artists talking to themselves, it loses its--well, it loses the thing that makes it vital. That connects it to the world."

The second speaker goes on to suggest that perhaps the failure is Lyle's - that he's not approaching what has been painted with the right experience or attitude.  Lyle replies that he doesn't subscribe to the notion that the viewer is responsible if a work fails or succeeds:

"I bring nothing to a painting. The job of the painting is to bring something to me."
Something about this hit me as blindingly true. First, the thing that's been bothering me lately is that writers, who are artists, are spending a lot of time dialoguing amongst themselves. For support, for critique, this is all fine and good, to a point. But at what point does this distract us from discovering those hidden truths and revealing them - bringing something to the reader that makes them stop and think this is it, this is truth - at what point does this turn us into people just trying to make something that sells? If in trying to create something marketable, are we ignoring what artists are supposed to do? Our purpose? Have we lost sight of it? Do we still believe in such a thing?

There's no harm in enjoying novels, films, music, etcetera, that are produced to entertain. I might use a pop song to anesthetize whatever I'm going through at the moment, while the artist uses it to pay his rent... or buy his mansion. But occasionally, something happens while I'm watching, listening, reading; as though a layer has been peeled away, I suddenly see more clearly. I can't help yearning to be the sort of artist who's able to produce something that has that same effect on someone who reads what I write. I suspect most artists feel this desire, and they should.

My hope for anyone who toils at any art form is that they are able to make those connections - that whatever medium they use to say, "Here is the truth as I see it," they are able to expose that truth clearly to those who are searching for it.

I was questioning my purpose as a writer. My question was answered in a piece of art that happens to be a book. It's not the first time for that, and it won't be the last, I hope - as long as someone out there continues to write (as Cameron does), searching for that connection.

June 26, 2010

Imagination. I Has It.

"So, I heard you're writing a book?"

"Er.  Yes."

"What's it about?"

"It's a young adult novel --"

"Is it about vampires?"

"NO."

June 24, 2010

Who Needs Anemones

WIP day, as opposed to revision day... I actually got a couple of pages down!  When writing, I have to take breaks-that-are-not-actually-breaks to do research.  It's like writing your way up to a cliff and then realizing you have to write yourself a little bridge to get over that deep, deep gorge...

Today's research included:
  • Placental abruption
  • What doctors who supervise interns are called
  • Course titles of medical school students
  • Bodies of water that appear turquoise in color
  • The Great Barrier Reef
  • Fish of the GBR
  • Pretty fish of the GBR
  • Anemones or coral?

The last one triggered a need to listen to Owl City while I attempted to finish the second page, during which I was interrupted at least fourteen separate times:
  • by my I-need-to-see-my-girlfriend-tonight-can-you-drive-us? 15-year old (eight times, possibly more)
  • by the cable guy asking if we have a dog because he needed to screw with the cable box in the back yard
  • by cats knocking stuff off of Paul's desk (twice)
  • by various phone calls (three - and no one ever calls me! WTF?)

I suppose writing two pages was sort of a miracle (and/or those pages are total crap).

June 21, 2010

Point of View

Some of my favorite books, including YA (maybe more so YA) either toggle between the male and female POV or are written wholly from the male POV. Is this the result of having sons? Or perhaps a deep-seated need to get into the male head and root around for interesting similarities and/or differences?

Even still, I believe more in the uniqueness of individuals than I do in disparity based on gender. For instance, while stereotypes might indicate that males tend to be more sports-science-sex-driven and females tend to be more artistic-language-romance-driven, those drives overlap (and sometimes are completely opposite) more than those general stereotypes would suggest.

I love enigmatic characters who overlap or break stereotype, especially when much of it occurs within their thought processes. In high school, boys were baffling to me. When Mom said, "They're only after one thing!" it seemed true. (Um, not that I minded, though that's not what I seemed to be thinking about while sketching hearts on my notebook, right?) That's the thing about stereotypes -- they're based on what seems true, not necessarily what is.

As a writer/storyteller, I'm lucky to have a daughter who was much more inclined to play team sports than either of her brothers and is studying biology in college, while her older brother is artistic and is studying theatre. But I'm just as lucky to have an outwardly stereotypical-seeming youngest son who talks to me. Because what's in his head is often at odds with what he's saying/doing where girls are concerned. I'm convinced that 15-year old boys are indeed driven by exactly what you'd think -- but there's waaaay more to it than what's on the surface. As they say, it's complicated. (And for a writer, complicated is good.)

Some of my favorite complicated boys:

Sammy - STRUTS AND FRETS by Jon Scovron
Cameron - GOING BOVINE by Libba Bray
Sam - SHIVER by Maggie Stiefvater
Ben - DEADLINE by Chris Crutcher
Nick - BREATHING UNDERWATER by Alex Flinn
Caleb - LEAVING PARADISE by Simone Elkeles
James - SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU by Peter Cameron