Tag: Arts

The Commodification of Creativity. . .

. . .is nothing new. Renaissance devotional panels were commissioned and the patron usually insisted that their likeness be inserted, next to the Madonna and Child. Kind of like a selfie with the Pope.

So it’s nothing new to have artists paint for patrons.

But these days, though, there seems to be  a proliferation of what is euphemistically called some version of “idea tanks.” A pseudo-creative tag that hides the business of commodifying creativity. Here’s how it works: business people get an idea, which invariably is more or less a rip off of something that has already been successful, hire a “content provider” to make it and then market the heck of it.

This is a commodity, pure and simple. It is not a labor of creativity. It is a labor of…well, labor. Kind of like factory work. There’s nothing wrong with factories and the commodities they produce, but creativity is not factory work.

Creativity is for taking leaps and pushing boundaries and all about making the artist grow and when she presents her creative work, the public, experiencing it, grows too.

Think about Andy Warhol and how he presented our commercialism as art and how it made us think about our world. Think about The Catcher in the Rye, and how it defined adolescence. Think about Piero della Francesca and how the stillness in his frescos ring with the exhale of God. Think about To Kill a Mockingbird and the photographs by Dorothea Lange. Even thinking about them, picturing them in my imagination makes my lungs fill with cool, fresh air.

If all we feed people are commodities—stale air—they’ll never know what they’re missing, because they’ll never how much more inspiring it can be. It doesn’t have to be all worker ants and the ones that control them. Or maybe it does.

The Renaissance is over. The age of communication has begun.

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Tying Up Loose Ends

The Muse tells me it’s time to break for summer, and like the Wife (heads up, husbands) the Muse is always right. To that end, I will be on vacation from my blog until the beginning of September, when, I hope, you will join me again.

To tie up a loose end before I vacate: The Sweater has been completed. The Twenty Year Sweater  Here is a photo.

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I know. I never said I was a good knitter, did I?  Check out the oddly puffy sleeves. When I put The Sweater on, I’ve got a weird Shakespeare-in-winter thing going on.

This morning I am going to go outside and paint a watercolor. Even though I have a boatload of books to review and three writing projects awaiting various revisions, I am still going to shove them aside and do a watercolor.  It won’t advance my career or make me money, but. . .

I am the product of two very different people. My mother has, as my dad likes to say, two speeds: slow and stop. But I think he might be envious, since he’s fast and faster. I tend to be more like my dad, until I remember that I’m also part my mom. Once I asked her how she avoided over-doing. She told me that she does three “things”—“things” being chores—per day, and once they are done, she’s off the hook and free to do what she wants. (I believe one of the “things” is making the bed, so you see she’s not unduly stressing herself.)

When I find myself in a muddle of work, I remember her words. Painting a watercolor this morning is going to be more satisfying than disciplining myself through a revision and what’s more, I suspect it will free up other creative areas in my brain, making me more effective when I get back to writing.

If you’re more on the driven side like me, maybe today you can try to do one thing you truly enjoy, for no other reason than that you truly enjoy it–see how it goes.

Until September, then. Have a lovely summer.

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The Journey v. the Destination

I got a friendly, helpful note back from an agent this week. While she declined to take me on, she did tell me she found my story line intriguing, however it started off too slow.

Zing! I knew she was right. I moved the manuscript into Scrivener and started re-arranging scenes in Corkboard. Moving the scenes around allowed interesting gaps to develop—gaps that sparkled. As I was rearranging, part of my brain delighted in this freedom and part of it was aghast. “You can’t do that!” it said, “no one will look at it if you do that.” Well, let’s  be honest, no one is really looking at it yet anyway, as far as I know. And besides, at 56 years old, at least two thirds of my life is over, so what is there to be afraid of? I’ve already experienced rejection and lived through it. I’ve already taken chances and succeeded or failed—and lived through it.

Fiction writing is a fairly new skill for me and I’m learning the craft daily. Even when I think I’ve written something lovely and amazing that really ought to win the National Book Award, or even better, a MacArthur grant, I remember how it was when I first started making baskets. I loved them too—those first ones—every crooked, sad, little lump of them. Then I got more polished and more polished still. And when I looked back at the first ones, I liked their gallantry, but let’s face it, they weren’t salable.

I think the same thing will happen with my writing. I am persistent. My stories will get more and more polished and one day my turn will come and I’ll get what I think I most want right now—a published book.

Even as I think this, though, I remind myself of something that I intuit is true: that the thrill of publication will never equal the satisfaction of the days I have now—of trying, failing, discovering and polishing—in a word, living.

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Everybody’s Better Than Me

I’ve just read through several book reviews and I think they are all better written than the reviews I write. No wonder my editor doesn’t give me so much work, I think. Although my brain then immediately reminds me that she gives me the amount of work I have asked for. No matter, I am determined to feel inadequate. This determination leads me to decide that the hundreds of books that are published each month are all expertly written and professionally put together (even though, in my capacity as a reviewer I have occasionally experienced the opposite) and to come to the conclusion that I am wrong to I think I can get a book of my own published, much less get a good review on it. This leads to the coda that I am wasting my time writing my two thousand words each day on my current project, a middle grade mystery.

And yet, six days a week I write my two thousand words, letting the story find its own way, and at the end of the day’s two thousand words, I feel—what is the word—happy, that’s it. I feel contented and fulfilled. I have set myself a goal, I have filled it, and sitting down to write each morning with nothing in mind but the trust that the words will come is like jumping off a cliff and discovering I can fly.

Writing is not the acclaim of a good review or even the validation of getting published, is it? It’s the sense of purpose fulfilled. If a publishing house thinks they can make money off it or a reviewer likes it, yay. But the really valuable part of all this is the doing of it, and the pleasure it gives.

I know, I know, everybody has said/written/acted/sung those words before and so they have the impactful strength of anemia. But believe me, until you put yourself in the position of the continual rejection of the writing life, you don’t realize the sterling honesty of those words. When you do, they are that bit of oar you cling to in the icy sea of the publishing world.

So maybe everybody is better than me. Who cares? I can still try and delight in the trying. That is something no one can take away: the decision to try.

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Honest Writing/Honest Life

All appealing writing has one thing in common–it is honest. I struggle with that. It’s not that I’m a dishonest person; I’m about average in the honesty department.

Now that line right there—“I’m about average in the honesty department”—that’s dishonest writing, because first of all, how do I know how I stack up to everyone else in the honesty question–I don’t. And second, what is that line really saying? Nothing. It has a mushiness to it that is warning me—not honest writing.

I do know when my writing isn’t honest. But I try to get away with it anyway. Why? Laziness maybe, fear mostly. Honest writing is sharp and clear; it lances through an idea, spearing it and leaving it quivering in resonance. Dishonest writing, on the other hand, doesn’t reveal; it hides.The whole point of writing, however, is to reveal.

I started this blog to teach myself to write honestly. It is a sink or swim idea, since if I’m not honest, I’m wasting everyone’s time, including my own.

So each week, I struggle against the urge to hide behind pompous or vague phrases and safe ideas, to instead open myself up by honestly communicating something I believe in. To do anything less is disrespectful to the reader. The vulnerability that honesty demands is scary. But scary as it is, I think it’s crucial for perspective.

Ann LaMott, in her hilarious book on writing, Bird by Bird, sums it up perfectly when she writes about the fear of trying something new: “The worst that can happen is that you realize you’ve made a terrible mistake.”

That sentiment knocks some perspective into the effort or situation. It’s just me, and my little sense of who I am and what I think I am worth and what I can contribute.

It’s not that big a deal.

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Expectations

The soft mewing of a wood duck as she calls to her chicks distracts me, and does that tiny cacophony I hear in the blueberry bush mean that the kingbird chicks have hatched? And the bullfrog! Can’t be more than ten feet away as he booms out his message. I am writing  outside on a beautiful June morning but that may not be the best idea if I want to get this done.
However, I wanted to talk about expectations.

I have a lot of unfinished projects: A quilt that’s just pieces of squares, a half-finished chenille scarf on the loom, a partially completed crewel work design, a sketch for another piece of embroidery and pounds of wool roving that would like to be spun.

So when I read in one of my writing books that the biggest mistake beginning novelists make is to not finish their projects, at first I thought:  ”Uh-oh, better remember that.” The odd thing is though, that I think of myself as a person who makes up her mind to do something and does it. That doesn’t seem to gel with all the unfinished craft projects.

When I sat down to think about it, I realized that the craft projects were all begun for specific reasons. I started making the quilt squares when I moved to this new house as an intuitive way to help me piece my life into a new pattern. I put the scarf on the loom between semesters in anticipation of needing something repetitive to do as I teased out the words for grad school papers. I embroidered to infuse some color into dark winter days.

These projects were all started to fill a need, and now I realize that they are incomplete because those needs have been met: I have a new life in a colorful pattern, turns out I didn’t need the loom project to jump-start my writing brain, and with the end of winter the colorful spring began. So although the projects are unfinished in one sense, they are finished in another sense–the sense that my expectations around them have been met.

If a project is no longer fulfilling, ask yourself why. Maybe it’s because you’ve already completed it. It’s not the actual physical finishing that makes something complete, it’s the fulfillment of the expectation.

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