Walking the Cat . . .

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Artist or Master Craftsman. . .

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Why isn’t writing considered art?  Why is it art and literature, not art of literature?  Both art and writing (and here I’m referring to fiction writing) are the result of myriad crafts; discrete skill sets honed to, or near, perfection and combined, one with another, until a desired effect is achieved.

Both artist and writer must, over time, acquire and master the crafts specific to their chosen medium. 

A painter would learn drawing, drafting, composition, perspective, how to blend color, etc. . .  If necessary, he may learn the rudiments of carpentry in order to make frames for canvases, or how to plaster to prepare a wall for a fresco.  All the while the artist practices technique so the color he applies to canvas or wall appears smooth and even, not ladled on with a trowel (unless, of course, that is the effect he desires, in which case he is required to acquire yet another skill set).

A writer learns language, grammar, composition, dialogue, narrative form, descriptive device and so on; all the while practicing his technique in order to develop a unique style, a voice.  He does this so he is able to apply the various skills he has mastered in a smooth and seamless way and avoid causing unnecessary confusion in his reader.  But once he adds characters to his story (and what is a story without characters?), he must acquire at least a minimal understanding of the skill sets of the characters; what they do, how they do it, perhaps even how they feel about what they do.  If he fails in this, his characters lack depth and appear mere caricatures rather than living, breathing people.  He doesn’t have to put everything about the character in the story, but the knowledge gained lends depth to the portrayal.

By contrast, the artist needs only to see his subjects.  For example, Degas didn’t have to become a dancer to paint his ballerinas.  He didn’t have to experience hours of practice, aching muscles and blistered feet.  He only needed to watch them.  Writers need to involve themselves more deeply in the lives of their subjects.

So why then isn’t writing art?  Both artist and writer acquire and master similar skill sets, similar crafts; only the medium differs.  The artist chooses paint and canvas; the writer, pen and paper.

I think the answer lies in the idea that writing, like reading, is too personal an activity to be art.

A painting is static,  When completed, a painting is what it is; an isolated moment in time.  Degas’ ballerina is forever frozen in time, waiting.  The writer presents us with a dynamic vision; a story from which we, as readers, can draw lessons about our own lives and a deeper appreciation of the lives of others.  And, if a character is portrayed with exceptional skill, we may be inspired to emulate him or her.  I doubt very seriously if anyone was inspired to become a dancer after viewing one of Degas’ portraits.

And yet the most, the best, we can say of the successful writer is he or she is an exceptional storyteller, a master of the craft.  Given what’s required for success in writing, I suppose that’s the best one can hope for.


Written by stevewthomas

January 9, 2013 at 2:11 pm

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