Purely Art?

My question today is: Why do you write? I read this excellent short story by Nikolai Gogol (pictured left), “The Portrait,” the other day and I wanted to share it. What begins as merely a fantastic story about a portrait with supernatural powers to destroy the lives of its owners becomes a much more interesting, and metaphysical, study of art and artists. While we believe that the portrait is possessed by the spirit of the evil moneylender who is the subject, it isn’t so simple. He tells his son, “I will say only that I painted it with loathing, that I felt no love for my work at the time.” The fault doesn’t lie with the subject but the painter. The artist goes on, “He who has talent in him must be purer in soul than anyone else,” another telling line that I am still trying to understand. Anyway, it isn’t some phony spirit encased in the portrait, but the evil feelings of disdain the artist placed in the painting that makes it haunted.

Does the motive to make art have to be pure? The litmus test of my work’s worth is whether I enjoy reading it. I am no great expert on what the world wants, but if I enjoy my work it’s enough for me. Other people write to appeal to a mass-audience, something I understand, and something I will have to do if I want to become a Screenwriter, but I don’t quite like it. Ultimately, is that the right reason to write, simply to attract a large number of people? Is that celebrity and wealth so important?

But then I think to myself, why do I write a blog, why do I live in LA, why do I check my Youtube and Facebook accounts obsessively? Are my motives purely honest? I don’t think they are, but I also think a healthy desire to reach more people and to seek feedback is normal. Right? Where do you cross the line between, say, a Stephin Merritt (effortlessly talented, almost unknown) and a Lady Gaga (the opposite)? Most screenwriters are not well-known, outside Diablo Cody, they aren’t exactly Entertainment Weekly material. Anyway, I would really like to hear what you think. How do you balance that desire for the bright lights with the same longing to write? Is art provoked by unwholesome desires wrong? Is it OK to die unknown and be discovered only in death, like Kafka? Would you be cool with that?

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3 responses to “Purely Art?

  1. Hrm. Well, first I’d like to take exception to the Gaga comment. I am not even close to a fan of hers (I like… 3 songs?) but I think she is extremely talented. Have you heard her sing or play piano without any other accompaniment? Really outstanding.

    So then the question becomes, why do talented people go in such different directions? Personally I think it’s a good thing, but I had one person ask me why I was wasting my talent on books for teens instead of writing Literature. (Note: he was actually quite complimentary/nice, despite his obvious belittlement of YA lit.)

    I think every artist has their own reasons for making art, and that in part affects what kind of art they will make.

    I like what you said, though:

    “The litmus test of my work’s worth is whether I enjoy reading it. I am no great expert on what the world wants, but if I enjoy my work it’s enough for me.”

    I agree. That’s enough. And in many cases, if YOU enjoy it, then it follows that other people will as well.

  2. Agreed with your points, but as a reader/listener/whatever I want to feel like the art being created is something that isn’t done for the wrong reasons. Baking analogy: I don’t want to buy a cake that’s all frosting. There needs to be some good rich filling for me to be interested.

  3. I write for several reasons. Firstly, because I love developing stories. Secondly, to show all the people, who thought it was a joke, that I reached my goal and live a happy life. Thirdly, not because of fame, but because of the fear to be forgotten when my clock stops ticking.

    In general, I do it, because I want it. Some do it because of fame and money, which is wrong. If money comes as a side-effect… okay, that’s fine with me… so I don’t have to worry about my monthly bills. But first of all, I do it… “just because”.

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