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Posts Tagged ‘writer’

What does it mean to be an artist?

I’ve been asking myself this question, in various forms, for most of my life. It’s a question that bears repetition because there are so many possible answers, and my own personal answer sometimes changes. When I first began creating, the question wasn’t clearly formulated and the answer was simple: Joy! As I grew older and awareness of economic realities intruded, the questions became How can I be an artist? and Should I even try?

For a year or two, I chose not to be an artist. Oh, I still dabbled in this and that, but I wasn’t wholly or even halfheartedly invested. It was a dark and boring time.

When I recommitted myself, I felt such a deep sense of relief. I was spending my time the way I was supposed to again. I was focusing on what was important again.

Perhaps that relief, that sense of purpose, is part of what it means to be an artist.

 

We can judge our artistic success on so many levels:

1. Financial: how much money we make, can we make a living as an artist
2. Recognition/acclaim: receiving opportunities, reviews, awards
3. Size of audience: how many people experience what we are doing
4. Growth as an artist: how we are improving and/or taking risks as an artist
5. Producing a piece or performance that works the way we wished it to

But perhaps being an artist doesn’t have so much to do with traditional success. Some of the most lauded artists labored in obscurity in their lifetimes. Many famous writers self published their own work. Vincent Van Gogh, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Jan Vermeer, Franz Schubert, Henry David Thoreau.

If money and fame are of less importance, then what does it mean to be an artist? It means we create. It means we dream. It means we explore the fundamental question of what it means to be human: what it means to be conscious, what it means to experience emotions because of a painting or a symphony or a poem or a novel, what it means to have the capability for empathy. The exploration is inherently of value, regardless of the outcomes.

Stephen King said, “Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” Art supports life; it creates meaning, some semblance of order created from the complications of existence. It takes us outside of ourselves and pushes us more deeply inside of ourselves. It raises as many questions as it provides answers.

Being an artist, then, is about more than a job or a career. Being an artist becomes a state of mind. 

And the seven-year-old me was right after all. What else does it mean to be an artist? Joy!

 


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On Tuesday night my husband and I went on a date night to see The Adjustment Bureau. During the car ride home, I proceeded to tear the movie apart: partly its plot (especially the end, ouch) and partly its portrayal of women. My direct quote: “Was this movie written by people who hate women?” Yeah, not pretty. (Also, just for the record, this movie is urban fantasy, not science fiction.)

Well, at least the poster is pretty.

While I could easily spend an entire blog post critiquing this movie (and wouldn’t my snark be amusing?), I’m going to restrain myself and instead point out something else. If I had watched this movie three years ago, I would have thought it was mildly entertaining and left it at that (except the end. I still would have thought the end was stupid.) I wouldn’t have noticed the negative depiction of women, and I definitely wouldn’t have noticed the issues I had with the plot.

Becoming a writer has changed me in many ways, not the least of which is the way that I engage with entertainment. I read differently, and I watch TV series and movies differently. If I still played video games, I’d probably experience them differently too. Even when I force my mind out of critique mode (which I can usually do if the errors in front of me aren’t super egregious), I notice aspects of the narrative that I never saw before. I think about conflict, I think about stakes, and I think about character motivations. And I notice when women are being portrayed as playing pieces instead of fully realized characters.

When I’m not enjoying a novel, instead of just putting it aside, I start to analyze why it isn’t working for me. Are there too many info dumps, or is the beginning too slow? Do I not understand or buy into the world building ? Does a character’s voice not ring true? Or is it merely a personal preference issue? (I tend to bounce off fairly dense prose with large amounts of description. Sometimes I can objectively see that this is good, but it doesn’t matter. I’m still bored out of my mind.)

When I am enjoying a novel, I try to pay attention to why I’m loving it so much. What combination of techniques is the author using to give me such a reader happy? How is that Guy Gavriel Kay switches POVs and tenses as much as he does without making me hate the book? How is it that Suzanne Collins keeps the pace so breathless in The Hunger Games?

I don’t usually mind this interference. It sounds awful, and if I had known about it ahead of time, it might have given me pause. But in reality, it’s kind of like a nerdy, intellectual game. It’s fun to be able to have solid reasons to put behind my opinions. It’s even entertaining to have debates on the relative merits and drawbacks of a certain work.

But perhaps most importantly, I haven’t merely learned how to read or view media differently. Becoming a writer has changed how I see and understand the world and its history, present, and future. It has changed how I see the people in that world. And I wouldn’t give that up for anything.

If you’re a writer, how has it changed how you read or experience the world? If you’re not a writer, have you encountered something else that has had a similar effect on you?

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