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Author Topic: Is there such a thing as Great Art?  (Read 1077 times)

pantodragon

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Is there such a thing as Great Art?
« on: February 25, 2013, 11:48:30 am »
When I hear a writer saying that they spent the morning putting in a coma and then the afternoon taking it out, I can’t help but think there is something wrong with the our attitudes to Art – and although I have quoted a writer, from all I have heard the same thing applies to the other arts.  Basically, it is all VERY HARD WORK.

And possibly even worse is this remark from a virtuoso jazz pianist: when asked how you become a jazz pianist he said, “Give up your childhood and spend it in a darkened room playing a piano.”  This is backed up by teachers at the Royal Academy of Music who, when asked if they could identify ‘genius’, identify the students who were going to go on and become the great concert players of the future, said that they could: it is the ones who spend most time in the practice rooms.  Of course, just in case we might make the ‘simplistic’ assumption that ‘genius’ is just down to practice, they tried to suggest that the motivation to spend so much time practicing is probably the sign of genius.  (Actually, that obsessive preoccupation with one thing, whether it be the internet or a piano or whatever, I associate with autism!)

Great Art, music, painting, writing, whatever, is supposed to be full of human insights, understanding of human nature and the human condition etc; I cannot imagine how someone who has had to devote himself to his art to the extent of ‘giving up childhood’ can understand anything about life at all!  Understanding of life and people comes from extensive experience of life and people, and you do not get that by spending your childhood in a darkened room.

Then there is that commonplace among writers: that it is the phrase that they liked best that they take out, because they just know it will be bad; almost they seem to be saying that if they do something they like then they consider it to be some sort of emotional self-indulgence.  This actually, of course, comes from editors and critics who have already taught the writer that if he/she does not remove such phrases themselves, then it will be removed for them -- to the accompaniment of a disparaging remark.  This seems to me to take all the heart out of writing, or any other art, and if you take the heart out of it, it seems to me that you reduce the art to something that can only be a product of the intellect, and therefore to something relatively trivial.

Some years ago, in response to the difficulty, the boredom, of trying to create works of art (painting and writing) that were up to the kinds of standards that were demanded by publishers etc, I gave up any thought of earning money from art, and made up my mind to earn money to support my art.  My working practices have changed dramatically, and have led me to change my attitude to art.

Art, all forms, are now virtually effortless, I am very prolific, and I have come to like the stuff I produce myself much better than anything else, including the ‘Great Works’, which I can now see are highly skilled, far more skilled than the stuff I do, but trivial products of the intellect.

And worse, these relatively trivial works demand far too much of the artist: it puts the art before the artist, has the artist sacrificing him/herself for the sake of the art.  I am very much of the opinion that art should serve the needs of people, rather than that people should be slaves to art.  And if that is the case, then all the Great Art of the past is worse than trivial, it is oppressive.

One of the things I have discovered is that it is good to throw stuff away, and, conversely, it is stifling to hang onto stuff.  As I said, I am very prolific – the blank page is just not a problem; ideas are two a penny and I have far more ideas than I could possibly use – and everything I create is a ‘throw-away’;  every so often I have a massive clear out and throw away everything I have.  This is a wonderfully cleansing thing.  It clears the mind of clutter, clears the feelings, and I always get a sense of renewed energy and freshness, like spring arriving after winter.

This has led me to take a different view of museums and art galleries: when I walk through a big gallery full of Old Masters, I just get a sense of staleness, the same kind of sense of unpleasantness that I get from second-hand shops – grubby, a bit off, something not quite right.  

Also, my attitude to trying to please publishers and the like has changed: it just seems like prostitution.  

To me, now, the best art if that of Joe Bloggs, especially if Joe Bloggs has not been to art school and is not concerned to sell.  That is, I like stuff that is the work of an individual, that is as individual as that individual, and that is done for the pleasure of expressing oneself, or of creating something one likes etc.  The level of skill is totally immaterial, and I even find that too much skill kills the art.  It is the unskilled stuff that is alive and full of vitality.  Perfection is death.

Jack

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Is there such a thing as Great Art?
« Reply #1 on: February 25, 2013, 01:20:31 pm »
Quote from: pantodragon;98299
When I hear a writer saying that they spent the morning putting in a coma and then the afternoon taking it out, I can’t help but think there is something wrong with the our attitudes to Art – and although I have quoted a writer, from all I have heard the same thing applies to the other arts.  Basically, it is all VERY HARD WORK.


You know that's an exaggeration, right? Not literally spending a whole day on a comma?

Only poets do that.

Quote
Then there is that commonplace among writers: that it is the phrase that they liked best that they take out, because they just know it will be bad; almost they seem to be saying that if they do something they like then they consider it to be some sort of emotional self-indulgence.  This actually, of course, comes from editors and critics who have already taught the writer that if he/she does not remove such phrases themselves, then it will be removed for them -- to the accompaniment of a disparaging remark.  This seems to me to take all the heart out of writing, or any other art, and if you take the heart out of it, it seems to me that you reduce the art to something that can only be a product of the intellect, and therefore to something relatively trivial.


Actually, the phrase "kill your darlings" is meant to warn that it can be tempting to leave in a clever turn of phrase because it is clever, not necessarily because it works for that character or scene. Joss Whedon can be a good example of this.

It does get thrown around by people who really have no business giving writing advice also, but the basic principles is sound.

Quote
Art, all forms, are now virtually effortless, I am very prolific, and I have come to like the stuff I produce myself much better than anything else, including the ‘Great Works’, which I can now see are highly skilled, far more skilled than the stuff I do, but trivial products of the intellect.


Trivial products of the intellect?

Most people like their own stories. That's why they tell them.

Quote
To me, now, the best art if that of Joe Bloggs, especially if Joe Bloggs has not been to art school and is not concerned to sell.  That is, I like stuff that is the work of an individual, that is as individual as that individual, and that is done for the pleasure of expressing oneself, or of creating something one likes etc.  The level of skill is totally immaterial, and I even find that too much skill kills the art.  It is the unskilled stuff that is alive and full of vitality.  Perfection is death.

Perfection may be death, but I find writing is much easier to enjoy when I can follow what the author is saying. ;)

The problem with arguing that people should only create for art's sake is twofold: first, most people create because they want to share their ideas with others. You don't seem to be one of those people; it sounds like the sheer act of putting down words is what pleases you. For me, the writing of words is only a tool that affords me a way to achieve my real goal, communication. If my words are not sufficient to convey my ideas, I'm not succeeding.

Second, the idea that people should not support themselves with art implies that only those who can afford to create as a hobby deserve to do so. I don't think you meant to imply this, but the time and, in the case of many art forms, the supplies to make art do not just manifest. Selling a painting gives the artist a roof over her head and food and more canvas. I write in my spare time, but I'd write a whole lot more if I was able to support myself with my writing. Single moms with three jobs, people who only have computer access for an hour a day at the library, metal sculptors who can't afford the cost and space of their equipment... All these people are left out in the cold by your description. If JK Rowling hadn't sold the first Harry Potter book, she probably couldn't have afforded to write all of them, and if she had it would have taken a lot longer.
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Gilbride

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Re: Is there such a thing as Great Art?
« Reply #2 on: February 25, 2013, 02:26:37 pm »
Quote from: Jack;98327
You know that's an exaggeration, right? Not literally spending a whole day on a comma? Only poets do that.


Not this poet. :)

If it can't be written in an hour or so, it can't be written. That's my motto for poetry. I think a lot of writers greatly exaggerate the amount of re-writing and polishing that is really necessary, because it fits the perceived status of literature as an elite activity.

Luckily, I don't write literature- I write pulp fiction. (And poetry.) And I'm not going to rewrite the same book ten times if I don't really have to. My job is to get a compelling, tight story down in one or two tries so the eventual advance I receive for the book will at least equal minimum wage. Then I can write another one.

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Re: Is there such a thing as Great Art?
« Reply #3 on: February 25, 2013, 05:30:31 pm »
Quote from: Gilbride;98340
Not this poet. :)


Sorry, that should have had a winky-face after it. I might spend a little while agonizing over a line break or two, but I have never spent that much time on a comma.
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Gilbride

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Re: Is there such a thing as Great Art?
« Reply #4 on: February 25, 2013, 05:43:40 pm »
Quote from: Jack;98378
Sorry, that should have had a winky-face after it. I might spend a little while agonizing over a line break or two, but I have never spent that much time on a comma.


Yeats claimed he did, but he was just trying to impress Maud Gonne...

Jack

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Re: Is there such a thing as Great Art?
« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2013, 06:02:16 pm »
Quote from: Gilbride;98383
Yeats claimed he did, but he was just trying to impress Maud Gonne...

 
Most people don't actually believe in the comma sutra.
Hail Mara, Lady of Good Things!
"The only way to cope with something deadly serious is to try to treat it a little lightly." -Madeleine L'Engle

Gilbride

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Re: Is there such a thing as Great Art?
« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2013, 06:36:36 pm »
Quote from: Jack;98391
Most people don't actually believe in the comma sutra.


Very nicely done. And you're right.

yewberry

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Re: Is there such a thing as Great Art?
« Reply #7 on: February 26, 2013, 11:28:50 am »
Quote from: Jack;98391
Most people don't actually believe in the comma sutra.


I'd spank you for that, but I suspect you'd just enjoy it.

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Fireof9

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Re: Is there such a thing as Great Art?
« Reply #8 on: February 28, 2013, 09:15:44 pm »
Quote from: Jack;98391
Most people don't actually believe in the comma sutra.


That was brilliant.
Really?  So, hey, want to go fishing?  I\'ve got a telescope, and it\'s going to be a dark night, so we should see the fish really well.
...what, I\'m not talking about fishing?  That\'s stargazing?  It\'s all doing-stuff, so it\'s the same thing, right?
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