ART and CRAFT

Starting this website has made me think more about what I like and dislike in art, music and literature, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I tend to like craft more than I like art – and I’m wondering why that is. In just about every discipline I like the well-made rather than the innovative. I like illustration over fine art. I like pop songs over improv jazz. I like adventure novels over literature. I like tap-dance over ballet. I like limericks more than free verse.

I guess you could just call me a middle-class, middle-brow philistine and have done with it – and you wouldn’t be wrong. I’m the guy in the museum who spends two seconds looking at the Rauschenberg and the Pollock, then drools for an hour over the Bouguereau and the Alma-Tadema. Maybe I just don’t get it. But I’m wondering if it’s more than that.

What seems to be at the base of all my likes is structure – and the ability to create something fresh and moving within that structure. In illustration I love to see color, composition, tone, and traditional skill in portraying the human figure put together in a way that touches the emotions. In songwriting, I love hearing a simple verse, chorus, bridge structure that also manages to be thrilling or heartbreaking. In novels, I love a plot that keeps you guessing and engaged, and delivers a satisfying ending and a hammer-blow of emotion on the last page, whether it is joy, sadness, anger or triumph.

Why I gravitate toward this combination of tightly defined form and powerful emotion I don’t know. Maybe I’m an anal retentive than needs to have all his feelings tied up in nice neat packages, but whatever it is, I like it as a writer as well. I love it when someone gives me a box with very specific dimensions and says, “put a story in there.” The challenge for me is finding a way to put in more than just a story – to put emotion and meaning in as well. Writing for TV is like this, as is tie-in writing, but stand-alone novels and short stories have their boundaries and borders too, at least if you’re working in the popular market. You’ve got to hit the marks of the genre, be it castles, space ships, mean streets or suburban angst, but if you don’t do more than that, you’re just a hack. You have put your heart and soul into it, and have skill enough so that heart and soul are revealed in the final product.

I don’t know if I’m there yet, at least not every time, but that’s what I’m striving for. I’m sure my Amazon reviews will tell me if I’ve succeeded or failed.


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Date: Thursday, 19. November 2009 12:27
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5 comments

  1. 1

    I’m not with you on the limericks, haha. But otherwise, I am, more or less. (I do enjoy rhyming verse, although I also enjoy more abstract poetry.) This is one reason why I didn’t stay an art major; I figured out pretty fast that my illustratorly goals and style weren’t going to be compatible with the fine art bias of the art department. (I wish I’d known that “college of art and design”-type places were more open to that kind of thing.)

    I think it’s too bad that our particular era devalues artisanship (the marriage of craft and art), so that our functional objects are not beautiful and so on …

    I think there’s plenty of challenge and art (in the sense of beauty and things that provoke emotion) to be found in good craft. :) I think that comes through in your writing.

  2. 2

    Dude, that’s not midde-class. Middle-class wants the stuff that’s sort of like the upper-class’s. You’re working-class and proud of your taste! The upper classes are separated from the world, and their art reflects that. Working-class art engages reality. Upper-class art ignores it. Middle-class art prettifies it. This isn’t to say that you can’t have fantasy in all three forms. But working-class fantasy is going to be aware of what it’s like to work.

    I really need to write a novel about orcs.

  3. 3

    I am with you on this Nathan,especially on literature vs “sword&sorcery.” My tastes took another hit the other day, someone asked why I was playing Dragon Age when the graphics were created for the “last” consoles. To which, “For the story Moron” ran right through my head.

  4. 4

    This reminds me of our conversation about faux. I like faux if it’s blatantly and unashamedly faux. Done right, it’s the _craft_ of faux.

  5. 5

    Thanks for all the responses. I guess I oughta write more essays. Will, I’m looking forward to Orcland, and Grey, faux shaux.

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