April 11, 2012

You Can’t Write the ‘Great American Novel’ ~ Nor Should You Try To

Today, I’ll wrap up my ideas on Yareah Magazine’s lovely post.

Define ‘art’ today is much more difficult than ‘photography’ but one thing is certain: art goes beyond the artist, it has a desire for transcendence and for expressing general feelings (an almost impossible task, strenuous, which has left many people on the road).

OMG.  Do I really want to take on the definition of great art? So many have eloquently said so much about the topic.  And have said it so much better than I would ever be able to.  But ~ you knew this was coming ~ let me offer a few cogitations.

The best art moves you in some way.  Emotionally.  Intellectually. Or both.

As such, it is highly individual and subjective.  Beauty ~ or greatness ~ is in the eye of the beholder.  (It's not totally artistic anarchy. Yes, there are standards, but ... )

You cannot create “canonical” art.  These things are established by societal consensus, or by a small group of tastemakers, and you the artist have little influence over it.  You can try to put yourself in the right place at the right time, try to connect with the right people, create lots of stuff and get very good, and by sheer force of your personality influence the tides. It works for a select few.  However, if you’re trying to imitate the established greats, you’re living in the past because it takes time, sometimes long after a person’s dead, to become canonical. “Time is a sort of a river.”

As Isabel says, by being particular, the best art becomes universal.  It is ironic that trying for the general will not make it universal, merely bad.  Only by trying for the very specific with the very best style and craft you can master do you approach universality.

You cannot judge your own work. Let me say that again:  You cannot judge your own work.  I don’t mean to say you can’t figure out what’s bad and what’s good and do better.  By that I mean, if you’re trying to make something “great” you’re off base.  Because great is judged by a whole bunch of other people.  You can offer an educated guess, but you cannot create societal consensus, especially about your own work. We have to let that go.

Which leads me to this last, and then I’ll stop pontificating on the subject.  The only great art, the best great art, you can create is that which is true to you.  It is our own worldviews, our personal truths, that which is so true you cannot approach it without your stomach balled in a fist, your heart pounding, your shoulders tight with shame, tears welling up within you. 

(Note to self: resist temptation to undermine your words with self-deprecation.  Oops.  There I went and did it.)

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