The books I'll be reading for this series is Writing Down to the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Naimark-Goldberg*
So, without further ado, here is the prompt for today:
Writers as artists: How do you define yourself as a writer? Are genre writers artists?
I'll admit that I was quite intimidated by this question. For one, even though I've done artsy things in the past (i.e., singing and acting), I've never really considered myself an artist. I tend to reserve the word "artist" for those few brilliantly creative people who paint or sculpt. But really, what is an artist? Merriam-Webster defines an artist (in the context of this post) as "one who professes and practices an imaginative art" or "a person skilled in one of the fine arts." I also looked up what forms of art are considered to be a fine art, and creative writing was included in the list.
So, is writing an art? According to the definition above, yes! Still, do I define myself that way? I guess I should. When I think more about, I continue to compare writing with something I've been more familiar with in the past: painting and sculpture**. What these artists do is take some plain--a canvas or piece of clay--and turn it into a glimpse into a world or a single point in time or person with a mysterious glint in his or her eye, anything their imagination takes them, really. As the viewer, we look at these paintings and sculpture and wonder. These works of art allow our imagination to go beyond that of the original artist to make the scene or the expression on a scultpure's face our own. We wonder what was going on in Saint Teresa's mind--what is it that she sees?--when she's in extreme ecstasy? What is the man whispering to the girl with the wineglass that makes her smile like she does? What I just did there was attempt to create a story surrounding these glimpses in time. Not only has the artist succeeded in sent his imagination into the physical realm, but he pulled me, as the viewer, into the world and encouraged me to make it my own in my mind.
So, isn't that what writers do? I think so. We, as writers, take the ideas in our heads and physically manifest into a worlds and characters and time periods through our words. Our paper (or computer monitors as is usually the case now) are our media, but the effects are the same. Maybe even more powerful in some cases, especially when we are able to create characters that readers can identify with and feel connected to in some way. I know as a reader I often feel incredible grief after having spent a long time with a particular character and then have to leave. It's like losing a good friend. How is a person's ability to bring out such emotion in another person purely through their use of words and imagination not art?
That leads me to the next question posed above. What about genre writers? Are they artists too? Well, yes. Why wouldn't they be? Landscape artists tend to paint landscapes, but the effects are generally the same. They bring out emotion and imagination in others. In the same way, a romance writer creates worlds and characters that bring out emotions in us as the reader. A mystery writers pulls us into the solving of the mystery. And, YA writers, like me, pull teens into a world with characters they can hopefully relate to or remind those of us past the teen years what it was like to be so embroiled in the overwhelming wave of emotions of teenagedom.
Although writing might not be visual, in that it doesn't show you what a world looks like or depict the character for you, it describes it. Sometimes I think this might be better than a painting for me, because it forces me to really build the look of the world or the character in my head. In fact, I often feel disappointed when I have this idea formed and I see another person's physical representation of what a character looks like. I know that happens all the time (The initial controversy over RPattz portraying Edward in Twilight, anyone? Yes, I went there. So sue me.).
As writers--and artists--we take something incredibly personal to ourselves. As Naimark-Goldberg says, "Writing is a path to meet ourselves and become intimate." In doing so, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to complete strangers, offering up that part of ourselves that we dared to put on paper. I think in every case, a person's writing is reflective of that person in some way. It may be small. Obviously, I don't think a writers who writes about a psycho killer is one themselves, but something in that story will reflect something about the author. And in the end, our readers either connect or they don't. It either effects them or it doesn't. They like it or they don't. But what we've done is set the stage, so to speak, for our readers to take what we've put to paper and make it personal for themselves.
That is what I consider to be art.
I guess by my own discussion, I should consider myself an artist. Right? I don't know why it's so hard for me to so. Maybe it's the scientist in me hammering away that I'm a scientist not an artist! But whatever it is, it's a growing process. I didn't choose to write to make money or get popular or have tons of praise. I started writing because I had something to say, something that wouldn't leave me alone until I got it down on paper. If no one but me ever sees it, it's art to me. It affects me. I hope some day it will have some meaning for others as well, even if it's just to pull them away from reality for a little while. For the time being, I'm content to put my ideas to paper and build a world where I get lost with characters I love or hate or love to hate. After all, in doing all this, I'm growing and learning about myself. And if nothing else, that is a good thing.
What is your take on today's topic? Do you think writing is art? I'm always curious to hear from others!
Also, if you read Cory's post for today and comment, she's running a contest this whole month (one per week). You could win a book on writing! And, don't forget to check out the other seven writers (see bottom of the post for links) participating in this series and comment on their posts. I'm sure they love hearing from you as much as I do!! I definitely plan to get over there and read what they (and the authors of their selected books) think about writing as art.
Check out the other writers participating in this blog series!!
- Cory Jackson: Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream
- Kate Hart: Stephen King’s On Writing
- Jamie Blair: Janet Evanovich’s How I Write
- Laura McMeeking: Natalie Naimark-Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
- Debra Driza: James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure
- Stephanie Jenkins: Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel
- Leila Austin: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird
- Sarah Harian: Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey
- Jennifer Wood: Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing
* I ordered the book last week, and it still hasn't come. So, I've managed to read a small amount which was available on a preview. I will update this post when I read the chapter on art and writing after the book gets here.
** I do not profess to be able to paint or sculpt. I can't nor do I want to. It just fascinates me and gives me an extreme pleasure when I contemplate it and spend time just immersed in the world of it.