I've been thinking a lot lately about writing as an art form, and, taking that a step further, wondering what the purpose of that art form is. Am I writing as a mode of self-expression? For salability 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."
"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.