Friday, July 13, 2012
A Reason to be Cheerful: staying true to your art
Even if you are not interested in the lives of great artists I am sure common knowledge will have filtered down, like rivulets and streams into the great river of shared consciousness, that many artists we now regard as ‘great’ were not recognized as such in their own lifetimes. By artists I am including every medium, not just Van Gogh and his ilk. Perhaps writing is the least tenable part of this thesis in that, unlike the paint stroke, the word has a capacity to become rapidly dated and best sellers particularly so – unless you go back to Dickens and Tolstoy et al. Will Booker prize winners be read in twenty years time? One or two but the majority not. This is because writing has the quintessential capacity to speak of the now and most reading revolves around the now just as pop makes up the vast proportion of music, being immediately gratifying and then unsatisfying. Most art fulfils a primary criterion and that is to give pleasure to the passing of time; the series of connected nows, if you like. The greater the art, the more attenuated the sequence of nows, stretching even across generations and epochs like Shakespeare.
There is obviously a scale of values implicit in this debate. Because of the technological revolution the writing media is now more varied. Tweets, blogs, articles, essays, poems, plays, novels are all forms that we have to fit consciously into our subjective measurement of worth.
In the end it is the Jungian universal unconscious which will be the final arbiter because great art communicates through it via a mysterious process of connections, both explicit and implicit. Catching the zeitgeist can make for overnight success but slow burners get there too – and sometimes only after translation into another language or medium such as film.
As artists and here we are discussing novelists in particular, we can and maybe should be driven to try to reach the highest levels of expression but we shouldn’t be dismayed that our oeuvres are not recognized in our lifetimes. We must console ourselves that the fulfillment of making narratives that would never have become born without our individual existences and unique experiences, is a particularly major reward.