Sunday, September 16, 2012

Art vs Writing

I've been listening to Amanda Palmer's new album Theatre is Evil on repeat since it came out.  I had the wonderful opportunity to see her play live a couple of years ago and it was an experience I haven't forgotten.

But the new album started me thinking about art.  When I think about Amanda Palmer, I don't think about her as a singer. I consider her an artist.  She doesn't have the most impressive voice I've ever heard, but that does zero to detract from how amazing she is.  Listening to AFP is an experience. You don't just listen to her, you hear the words and feel the emotions and see the pictures she's painting.  Even beyond that, everything she does is part of the art.  The design of the jacket liner, the way she dresses, the shows she performs.  She doesn't just sing songs, she performs them.

Compare someone like Amanda Palmer to other popular singers.  Is what someone like Justin Bieber does considered art? Or is he just a singer?  A talented singer, yes, but still just a singer.  Is there any art to it?

Are popular writers like Michael Crichton just writers? Or are their books art?  I've got nothing against Crichton. I've enjoyed a number of his books, but sometimes they feel so bland and paint-by-numbers.  If they're art, maybe they're the Thomas Kincade of art.  People love them, but they don't challenge.

What makes one thing art and another not art?  I would argue that someone like Celine Dion is an amazing singer despite the fact that I don't really care for her music, but I would never call her an artist. Why not?  She could sing circles around Amanda Palmer, but AFP's work moves me. It makes me think. It challenges me.  Is that why it's art and Dion's is just music?

I think about these things when I write.  I wonder if I'm simply writing a story or if I'm making art.  It's not a question easily answered because I'm not sure where the line between writing and art truly is.  It's not solely about popularity.  Harry Potter is art in my opinion while Stephen King is not.  Maybe it's a personal distinction.

Either way, I think the important thing isn't defining that distinction but merely the act of trying to define it.  Maybe that's what makes someone an artist rather than a writer. Maybe simply attempting to elevate their work is enough.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Speak up and be heard.  What makes one book art and another just a book?


  1. When examining a book for its artistic value, which is most of the time, there are certain qualities I hope to discover quite soon and on almost any page. In general, I want the book to teach me about what I am not familiar with or familiar things set to an alternate perspective from what is commonplace. I look for rhythm and dancing, theory, metaphor, brevity and sweeping thoughts, dialogue with nuance, correlation, irony and provocation and preferably a broad scope of vocabulary. Even if every sentence is not meaty with unusual vocabulary, I find a lesser used word once in a while strengthens chapters. So, I would say having a sense of grammar and linguistic style to go along with an understanding for the subtleties attached to language is fair evidence of a book of art versus a book lacking. It is important too that the story itself should have personality and passion.

    Thank you for the blog. It was a refreshing exercise to define, reinforce and alter some of my ideas and perceptions about what I measure a story with.


    1. Karen,

      This is interesting. I used to do a lot of lit theory in college but find that I read with a much less analytical mind. What I mean is that, if hard pressed, I would probably have a more difficult time quantifying the elements that I use to separate books I consider art from books I do not. I might say that books as art are the ones that make me feel, but I'm pretty sure I got a little choked up while reading Andromeda Strain, but I certainly wouldn't call it art.

      For me, I think intent is a better indicator of art. Was the writer trying to elevate the story or were they just cashing a paycheck (I'm looking at you, James Patterson!)? What was the writer trying, if anything, to accomplish? Like with music, some of the most talented singers never become more than singers, while some of my favorite musical artists haven't always got the greatest voices. But the intent is there. WIth someone like Amanda Palmer, she's trying to make art. Trying to make a statement. Trying to elevate the form to something beyond just words and notes. And, to me, that makes it art. It's not always successful, and even when it is, I don't always care for the result, but it is art, and I have immense respect for that.

  2. I think it's one of those things - I can't define it, but I know it when I see it. I would call The Walls art. I would call Andrew's books art. I would call Joe's book art.

    I'm reading an ARC right now. It's a MG novel coming out soon. It's a great book, really fun, but it's not art. Not even close. It's just a cool story.

    I think the definition of this kind of thing is very personal, and different for every single person. What speaks to me, in music, in literature, in film, is not going to speak to everyone else in the same way, because they have not lived the same experiences I have.

    1. I think you've hit on the, like porn, is one of those things that we just know when we see it.

      But I do think there are some universal truths about art. While I hated Catcher in the Rye as a book, I can't deny its artistic merits. Even in spite of the subjectivity of art, I think that there must be some sort of objective elements...but I'll be damned if I know what they are.

      Also, thank you for lumping TW in with such great authors...of all the books I've written, that's the one I'm most proud of.


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