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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Less and More

I don't understand it: in the U.S., graduate programs in writing are thriving at the same time that the number of readers of literary fiction is plummeting. I read this in Poets & Writers magazine. I got my first issue in the mail this week. I had never read the magazine before and never thought seriously about the business of creative writing, which takes up a great portion of Poets & Writers.

The expression "the business of art" utterly baffles me. I use it but I don't know what it means. Who are the people involved in the business of art? Not the artists, surely; I hope it's not the artists, because that would mean that their art is driven into being by pecuniary reasons, and that, to me, is a troubling thought. And yet artists too have to earn a living; they need that room of their own, that good dinner that nourishes the body and the soul, and the certainty that the room and the dinner will be there no matter which way the winds of the market economy blow. Art cannot thrive in a market economy, cannot be produced or judged on the principles of supply and demand. It is so incredibly hard to produce something -- book or painting or song -- whose beauty will endure. It is even harder, I think, to recognize that kind of beauty, to see it when you come face to face with it, because to see in that way it's often necessary to step out of your habits of thinking. The market economy relies on habits of thinking and buying; it can't teach you to appreciate the ineffable.

Sometimes I glance around at the people in my drawing class and wonder that we are here, struggling so hard to teach our fingers to make marks that are not only accurate representations of the human body but that are also emotionally moving. I glanced around at the people in the writing classes I took and wondered the same thing. What drives them? They are young and old (a man in my drawing class is 85 and rides his bike to class), holding full-time jobs and retired, confident and full of doubts about what they're doing. And yet they keep doing it. That seems like a small miracle to me -- and also a necessary one. Beauty is such a rare and difficult thing to obtain that we need great numbers of people working earnestly to create it in order to squeeze out of our collective mind and soul the few precious beads that get passed on from one century to another. So there must be more writers than readers, more painters than art buyers, more musicians than listeners.

Perhaps all this is no more than an attempt to justify my decision to go on writing even though my chances of being read are statistically insignificant. At the same time, I have stumbled now more than once on the work of an obscure writer and have been thrilled and moved beyond my wildest expectations. My life is better for having read that obscure writer's work. I felt, no matter how arrogant that might sound, that that specific writer's book was written especially for me. Literally, of course, I'm wrong. But in a broader sense I think I'm right. One law of "the business of art" may be that there is one writer for every reader, one composer for every listener, and so on -- the perfect match. So maybe, in fact, there aren't more writers than there are readers; it appears so because they have not found one another yet.


Blogger Jonathan K. Cohen said...

One reader for each writer. No contract. Print run of one. One sale. No returns. P&L simple.

The only question is whether one reader can in any way compensate the writer for the time and energy needed to write. Try accounting for your novel writing time, and then bill it out at minimum wage. No individual, unless he happens to be named Maecenas, will pay that bill for a manuscript.

There is, however, a literary form which expresses the one-to-one model with economy: the letter. As in your stated problem, you have only to find the addressee.

April 23, 2006  
Blogger Never Enuf Thyme said...

Interesting ponderings. I write because I have to. Yet, having said that, I have been so incredibly blocked (Real Life getting in the way) that I can't write even though I occasionally get the urge to. I am hoping that by using my new blog it will help inspire my imagination again.

Yes, I write because I have to, and I shudder at the thought of the business end of it, if I ever finish my MS. I'd like to find an agent for the business part.

April 23, 2006  
Blogger Green Whale said...

I'm afraid I contradicted myself quite a bit in this entry.
The question of compensation for art -- the monetary kind, and the kind that has nothing to do with any material things (I can't think of a word for this one) -- is very puzzling. I took a stab at the problem, and although I missed for the most part I took a little comfort in the attempt.

I agree with Invisible, though: one writes because one has to. Admitting this seems the only honest way to go.

April 24, 2006  

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