Friday, July 31, 2009

ART versus ENTERTAINMENT? I'm impure, doubly so. A Confession.

I've written books that I've seen as primarily entertainment, and art happens in the process.

I've written books that I've seen as primarily art, and entertainment happens in the process.

These are distinctions that happen in my own head. I would like to report that the books that I've written for the sake of art -- novels and collections of poetry -- are harder, more grueling than the books I've written with entertainment in mind. But I can't.

Some have been. Some haven't. The burdens are different, but, for the most part, equally weighty.

A few other things.

While writing children's novels, I never dumb anything down. If anything, novels for younger readers use every ounce of my imaginative effort. They wear me out much more than a novel for adults -- I use different muscles, but ones that are weaker within me.

And, sorry to report to all those out there who think LA is an art killer, my conversations with producers -- though sometimes baffling and sometimes full of double-speak -- are more often than not conversations with extremely smart, well-read people with artistic vision. Those conversations have pushed me to write in a way that's more philosophically sound and liberated me to be more visually wild -- cinematic.

There is a notion that writing to entertain -- writing commercially -- is how we as artists cop out, sell out, give in. And that writing art is how we maintain our own artistic vision, that's how we remain pure.

I've realized recently that I'm polluted -- but doubly so or equally so as an artist and entertainer.

Because I've gotten in touch with my desire to entertain (with art happening along the way), I've also gotten in touch with the impurities in my desire to make art, and I've realized that my desires to make art are just as impure as my desires to make entertainment.

When making art, I want respect. When making entertainment, I want readers. Sometimes I get neither, sometimes a little of one, the other, both. I can never predict.

Both impurities impact me as a writer. I don't live in a hermitage. I'm a human being who lives among other human beings. And I have no strong desire -- as some writers do -- to do something as grand as withstanding the test of time. This, in fact, never really dawns on me.

Does this mean that I don't ever write anything that is purely for my own joy or enlightenment -- without any expectation of respect or readers?

Well, damn, I find joy in all of it (and requisite despair).

I love the challenges inherent in every project, and, frankly, those distinctions I make in my head between art and entertainment are getting blurrier. This fall I'll work on a novel that I consider to be such a convolution of both that I really don't know where it will sit, even within my own self-made constructs of art and entertainment.

I often talk to writer friends who don't want to take this suggestion or that from an editor. They say it's for artistic reasons. Maybe an editor is asking them to sell out to readers, but maybe not. And sometimes I wonder if artistic vision isn't a bit of hubris, a bit of laziness, or something else altogether -- maybe just the pervasive cultural perceptions about art and entertainment?

Still rowing...