I took a wander through a modern art museum yesterday. (I don’t know why I do that, because most modern art just doesn’t click with me. I think I stopped appreciating art right about the end of the surrealist period.)
Anyway. A few random thoughts I had:
It seems to me that artists (and by artists I mean painters, sculptors, etc.) have more leeway in what they can produce than writers do. I remember studying dadaism (the literary version) at some point and that’s probably the closest that I’ve seen writing come to that sort of experimental what-the-hell-are-you-actually-trying-to-do-here expression.
Compare that to all the discussion forums on writing where people get their knickers in a twist over comma placement or alright vs. all right or whatever other issues they’ve decided make someone’s writing “worthy.” (Not that I don’t try to follow those rules. This is not a rant against establishing a common form of communication that allows us to share what’s in our minds with one another. And I think part of doing that is being clear in what you’re saying. It’s just that if writing is art, then it’s a much more restricted* form of art than others.)
I also think that sometimes we elevate everything someone does when in reality it’s only a few select pieces of theirs that are truly genius or worth preserving. I think of this a lot with posthumously published literature (and there was some posthumously produced art at this museum that wasn’t bad, but wasn’t special in any way).
So, great, someone wrote an amazing novel that was so insightful and so bold that it changed a generation. That doesn’t mean that every single word they wrote deserves publication. Especially if it’s not the words that they would have published. If they didn’t want it out in the world and they’re supposedly the genius, then perhaps whoever is left with their papers is not in a position to make that decision for them? And all that publishing those inferior works does is dilutes the truly exceptional pieces?
It also intrigues me that even though I was looking at paintings and drawings, I still felt like they were in a different language. There was meaning there that I couldn’t grasp. (And with this museum I think it was quite literally in another language. There were a lot of Czech artists and, without knowing much about the pieces, they felt very political. I think many of the images had meaning that didn’t “translate” for me.)
It’s amazing how images are significant within a certain setting, but have no meaning outside of that setting.
Anyway. I need to do more writing and less philosophizing. Good news is one of the novels is finally taking center stage, so it looks like I won’t be trying to juggle these two all the way to the finish. Which is good. Leaves me something to work on when it’s time to let the first one rest.
*I wanted to use the word proscribed here, but when I looked it up to be sure it seemed like maybe I should use prescribed instead. But that just didn’t seem right, so I went with another word altogether. The things that keep me up at night…