Here's how oddly my mind is working these days:
Ben's post on Friday (and if you haven't read it yet, go and do so now; I'll wait) got me to thinking. The video of Harry Crews discussing what is and is not "art" really stirred all sorts of feelings in me.
I agreed with everything he said--particularly about not enjoying writing, but loving having written--until he started defining what he did as being an "artist." Now, I'm not arguing for a moment that Harry Crews isn't an artist.
What I'm saying is that I'm not an artist.
In the tradition of other great cowards, I'm going to qualify that statement even further: I am not suggesting that what I do isn't art in the broadest sense. In other words, I'm not saying that other authors who write the same kind of book as I do are not artists. I make no such claim for anyone other than myself.
All I can say for sure is that when I'm writing, which is most of the time, what I'm doing doesn't feel like creating art. It feels like a job, a craft. Sometimes it resembles a magic act, pulling out certain tricks that will get the point across. Other times it's a question of allowing the characters enough freedom to do what they're going to do and not getting in their way too much.
In any event, typing away with "Feel the Sun" by The Goldbergs in my headphones doesn't really seem to be the sort of solitary, solemn, serious and immortality-seeking activity art is "supposed" to be.
Part of this statement, of course, is tied to the fact that I can't really tell you much about art. I'll go to museums with my wife because she loves them, but I'll tell you the truth--I get nothing out of it. We went to Rome in 2006 and saw works by Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo and probably another Ninja Turtle, and while I admired the craft as something I sure as hell couldn't do, the emotion of it, the story, the message the artist was trying to communicate, all that was lost on me. Some of them were very pretty, though.
The same is true of the works I've seen by Picasso, the operas by... anybody, the great novels of Melville, Hemingway, Hawthorne and some Dickens (he could spin a tale). It's a mystery to me. There are things universally accepted as classic and artistic, and I'll prefer to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark again or re-read Flanagan's Run by Tom McNab. Or listen to The Goldbergs.
I fully accept that this is a failing of my own. I've seen many great paintings (living near New York will help you do that), and never viewed one that I didn't feel would have been better if it could have moved. I wanted the rest of the story. One frame out of a movie, no matter how brilliantly composed, never really reaches me.
This, I'm guessing, infuses my view of my own work. I read over things I've written, and I have ego enough (believe me) to enjoy them when there's enough distance between my typing "THE END" and the reading. I think I'm pretty good at what I do. I think more people should read my books. I think I fill a need.
But art? What the hell is art, anyway?
P.S. OLD HAUNTS by E.J. Copperman will be published in 29 days. I don't feel like it's art, but maybe you have a different definition. I hope it's a good story well told.
P.P.S. Pitchers and catchers report in 41 days.