On Arts Writing

Part of my job, and part of my life, is that I think a lot about art.

‘What exactly is art?’ is one of the questions that preoccupies me the most. My opinion on this is basically the same as American poet Elizabeth Bishop. She said that art is anything that stays with you for a day. It could be a poem, a short story, a song, a lamp, a stained-glass window. What matters more than anything is that it has a profound effect on you, that it changes how you think about an issue or how you view your friends, maybe.

While this is broad, there’s a tendency to say what is not art rather than what it is when people write about creativity and art. I hate these restrictions for many reasons, but primarily it misses the point of what an artist is trying to do. If you write off the artistic capabilities of a medium before you’ve seen what can be done with that medium – in all forms whether disgusting or life-altering – you will never be profoundly affected by it. In other words, you miss the point of art by trying to define it in any but the broadest of terms.

In my view, art is what draws you into a medium. But the medium is really only a way to give that art a face, an understandable and digestible feeling. You don’t have to know why a piece of art makes you feel something profound, why it stays with you for those 24 hours or whatever the case may be. That’s why I hesitate to place importance on medium, in other words the physical form a piece of art takes on. Different media have different tendencies. They can be qualified and categorized based on their outward aspects but there doesn’t need to be a relation put on the ability for a work to be impactful and the way that work is presented to the world.

Art, as a thing, had been profoundly altering my life since I was a child.

For some reason, the first memory of a work of art I’ve got is the T-Rex roar in ‘Jurassic Park’. Everyone knows what I’m talking about because it is such an impactful, stay-with-you-ad-infinitum piece of art. And it makes the movie, which is already great and really well done, into this transcendent thing. Now, I don’t think I need to take it any farther, to delve into a vortex of classifications and categorizations to appreciate ‘Jurassic Park’. Do I need to compare it to the other films that came out in that golden period of filmmaking that was the 90s? Should I examine it through the lens of other Spielberg works to see what comment can be made about his filmography as a whole?

Basically, what I try to understand is how and why we valourize art. This is probably nauseatingly esoteric for most of you reading, but it’s important for the reason that many artists question daily what they are doing. It’s one thing to know you are great compared to others, but it’s a whole ‘nother thing to feel great in and of yourself. It is for this simple reason that I want to prevent people from restricting artists. I think a big part of being an artist is confidence in your abilities.

Imagine if Spielberg questioned the chills he got when he first heard what would go on to become one of the most recognizable parts of culture today in one of the most ubiquitous movies ever made. Imagine if he wondered whether it was deep, whether it was meaningful to make a blockbuster based on the mass market paperback of one of the world’s most famous writers of popular fiction. It would be shame, is all I can say in my sarcastic head shaking.

-Clay

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