Some thoughts about art and the reasons not to do it

I’m quoting piano instructor Kevin Guess here, out of context. He was talking about philosophical stuff on the piano players’ forum. I think it applies just in general, so I’m sharing it.

“Marketing is for those who want to reach people with whom they don’t and won’t have a lasting relationship. That is why the worst products are usually the most heavily advertised.”–Kevin Guess

“Nothing can survive unless it can find a niche. Those things seeking a niche can’t control the environment in which they seek it. We live in a business/technology/politics-dominated world. To business & politics, the value anything has is SOLELY its usefulness in making a deal or shaping a deal in favor of the one doing the making or the shaping. To these people, art has no intrinsic value. To technology, art is something to be quantified and objectified. All three of these pursuits are purely exploitative. Everything is a means to an end. Nothing has any intrinsic value.”–also Kevin Guess

If that isn’t depressing enough. . . .

I don’t know whether I’ll find my niche or not. Sure, there IS an audience for my work. Contest judges (especially in literary contests) like to give it awards. A dear friend said last night, “We’ve talked about your voice and style before. You’re not a Stephenie Meyer writer, but a Bas Bleu–and that’s all right.” I suppose she banged the hammer right on the mosquito; I’ve never aimed to click with the majority, but with those who like to read what I like to read. That minority is still kicking, for now, although I don’t know whether I will be able to reach them.

I simply CANNOT SEE the things that most readers see as repetition and boring detail in my work. It must be part of my essential voice. I’d been hoping that it was just a couple of instances in the newer stuff, but no. Yes, I would LIKE to learn how to recognize these passages, even if I ultimately decide to keep them instead of taking them out. But I don’t believe I have it in me. There’s some kind of mental block.

Several people have taken time out of their own workday to point out examples. This should have been very helpful, but the sad part is that after they point out these parts I can see that you could tighten it up a bit, sure, and that doesn’t bug me, but I can’t go on and do the rest of the homework. You know, like when you follow the teacher’s working out on the board of the math problem, but when you look at the problems in the book, you cannot imitate her and use her algorithm no matter how much you believed you could. I can’t see why these passages irritate readers or would pull them out of the story, although it is obviously happening. What’s worse is that they then say, “there’s a lot more just like that, just look,” and I CANNOT SEE IT.

Here I am turning 51 on March 18th (oh God there has been some mistake in the numbering of years, because I cannot be that old) and am just now finding out that the one thing I thought I could do (and that my teachers all through school, including college, including college creative writing graduate courses, thought I could do well) has turned to junk. Perhaps it always was junk.

I’ve finally had to acknowledge that. It’s very tough to internalize. I have tried and tried to “fix” it, without much success. (I generally just end up with DIFFERENT asides replacing the originals.) It’s kind of sad that I’m so goddamn stupid that I always just breezed along believing that there were just different tastes and so forth, and that I was basically not a bad writer. I can certainly see how a depressive type might really go into the Black Dog pit with something like this. (Not a cry for help: I’m way too selfish to go down there–just ask my family, who loves to tell me how selfish I am for taking piano lessons and insisting on a few moments to myself now and then instead of constantly waiting on them. Selfish types like to continue to hang around, if only to afflict others and whine.) But I’ll never be able to believe that “snow” means the same thing as “silent, secret, cleansing snow.” Or that “a democratic government should survive” means exactly the same as and is a better phrasing than “government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” (No, I don’t claim that my little scribblings compare to these eloquent examples–they’re merely examples of when the trope has worked for the readership. It doesn’t, not any more.)

No wonder I wanted to go back to the piano with a teacher who serves as a trained judge and arbiter of taste. [You’re probably thinking that “teacher” covers it well enough, aren’t you? But not all teachers serve as judges or know what the consensus is. Some are there to encourage you, raise your self-esteem, make you feel good and have fun, but don’t mind much if you never improve. Their sanity is more important to them than dogging a student who simply cannot “get it.” That’s fine, but not what I’m after.] When you play Mozart, the “rules” are that you have to play the correct notes in the correct rhythm, and you have to have the proper articulation–play legato where he wants legato, staccato where he wants staccato–and dynamics, and then you get a little wiggle room as far as interpretation like rubato, “breathing” at the end of a phrase, a bit of emphasis here and there. If you can do this instead of “pounding it out” or jerking through the score like a weed-eater through a cornfield, then you’re doing it right. And we can show you how to improve. There are objective ways to evaluate your performance, rubrics to use that say, “This performance is what we expect.” It may not be transcendent or definitive, but it’s correct, and Mr. Mozart is not sitting on his Heavenly cloud and wincing.

When I play K. 545 now, it sounds like Mozart, at least. At first it didn’t. I had to learn the notes and get used to trilling against an Alberti bass, and get up to speed. But I knew what I needed to do, saw the target, and I got there. I don’t mean that I have the piece “down.” I haven’t yet brought it up to performance level. As far as “mastering” it, that would take a lifetime. The best I can hope for is to gain some insight and be able to bring something new to it so that when I do play it for myself, I don’t shame myself.

I used to think that when I wrote, I didn’t shame myself. It is tough to admit that I’ve been wrong. It’s like the year I spent after college trying to get a particular group of people to like me: it amused the hell out of them, and I should’ve caught on WAY SOONER that it was simply not to be, and that I could never measure up. Not because I didn’t try, and not because I didn’t try to follow the advice that a couple of well-meaning InCrowd types gave me. Because I didn’t have it in me. I still don’t.


Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s