More Art, Less Writing

Today, in between finishing Francine Prose's Blue Angel, playing with Zoe (our adorable shiapoo), schlepping our tired bodies to Whole Foods, watching Friday Night Lights reruns, conducting a thesis/topoi workshop in my writing + critical thinking seminar, watching porn on my iPhone while I brushed my teeth after class, between all of that, I've been thinking a lot about the difference between writer + artist:

There are a lot of writers on this planet for the simple reason that writing is a technical, redactive + analytical process--meaning, people who are skilled at conceptual organization, editing + analysis can + often do write really well. Further, these are learnable/transmittible skills.

Then there's the writer-artist, someone who can create entire worlds, characters + experiments, + direct them in the service of a storyline, conceptual framework or idea, transporting you into another, parallel, self-sustaining universe with the flash work of a single paragraph. That's what great writing can do when it's art, change the universal vibration of everything around you, whether it's literary fiction, chicklit, Stephen King or George Saunders.

The problem then, is that, the most distinguishing characteristic for a writer--i.e., your artistic, non-technical matrix--is precisely the one thing no MFA workshop can teach you. Workshops have to focus on technique because technique is technical + technical things can be taught, practiced, improved. But ultimately, while improving your technique will make you a better writer, it won't--it can't--make you a better artist. MFA programs know this. They're not delusional. In the back of most directors' mind, they know that, more than anything, their MFA program is basically a gift, a gift of community, support + time, + time, above all else, is a prerequisite to write, everyone's least common denominator, both writers + artists. But all of that writing doesn't mean you're an artist--didn't I just say this?--it means you're a fucking writer, which honestly, isn't a bad way to go at all.

My concern, though, is this: there are already way too many fucking writers in this country, in this continent, in this world. And while I'll support to the end of my life the right for MFA programs/residencies/endowments to exist + give shelter to writers who just need time--that precious commodity--to work out their potential art that's all tangled up inside, at the same time, MFA programs are also partially to blame for the proliferation of writers that haven't smelled one whiff of art in their 2-3 years of workshop-hysteria gang-rape. What the world needs, what American culture salivates for, what the brainiacs + college students + aggressive critics + tenured faculty + jaded post-homeboy Generation Me slackers all need--+ let's be honest, we always need something, nothing is more painfully human than that--is more art that is ambitious + difficult + smart + great soulful + provocative + the opposite of safe + socially-conscious + socially relevant + breathtaking + thought-provoking + timeless + insightful/generous/brutal about the human condition + above all else, profound in some existential, cultural or global way.

We're told that the little moments are the big moments now, that the reader shouldn't expect pay-offs (i.e. epiphanies), that beautiful writing is its own end, that any narrative, any story, any emotion, any character is worth writing about + for whatever reason if it's done well enough. Maybe, that's right. But maybe, just maybe this legitimately-constructed defense of art-for-art's-sake (one I've made a million times against people that use literature as an ideological puppet show), maybe this point of view has kept the front door open for so long that now everyone comes inside. Everything's art, therefore, nothing's art. Anyone can write a novel (especially a once drug-addicted celebrity with a ghost writer). Anyone can print a novel in a vanity or self-publishing press, therefore writing + publishing, are no longer exclusive, protected domains in this new arrangement of mass media democratization (which seems like a good thing!).

Because there is so much writing in America--more than at any point in our own cultural history--but so little art, so little genius, no wonder people don't read anymore. Maybe we've cheapened the deal for them by publishing writing but downplaying, ignoring, even cockblocking great art for fear of poor sales. Editors want to make money, agents want to sell manuscripts + writers just want readers, which might be the most dysfunctional fucking love triangle I've ever heard of.

And yet, despite this, I still can't stop writing. It's the only place I belong in this world. Whether it's art or not, I can't say. I'm not even sure that's my call. But I'm willing to double-up--whether true or not--that I'm in this for the art. Whether my writing is good enough to be art, well, I'll let you decide. I already know what I think.