Feb. 10th, 2007

reenka: (get that sulky groove thang)
This essay called 'How Art Can Be Good' articulated something I've been thinking about for awhile (er... if some of you haven't noticed, heh). Basically, this guy is talking about professional-level visual art, and he pretty much says it's good (beyond individual matters of taste) when it appeals to a lot of people, approaching 'universal'. He mentions the obvious difference between a blank piece of canvas & the Sistine Chapel, though I think the Sistine Chapel is more 'impressive' than good.

I mean, on some level he's talking about stuff that gets noticed, that leaves an impression rather than being necessarily of 'good quality'; I'm also not sure about mass appeal as it relates to the 'lowest common denominator' issue. Clearly lots of really crappy pop-cultural things have huge near-universal appeal (Disney, anyone?) without really being... good. Like, at some points it gets a bit fuzzy to me, like:
    Art has a purpose, which is to interest its audience. Good art (like good anything) is art that achieves its purpose particularly well.

I think he makes a more valid argument when you consider his second point, which is that he's saying all this to appeal not to the art critics but to the artists, who tend to instinctively want to make things that are good. He says that what we're missing in the arts now & what the great painters during the 15th century had is an honest work ethic-- the desire to seriously work at making things that are inspiring and challenging, rather than just masturbatory/self-expressive or 'good enough' for your intended audience.

To me as a writer, the idea of critiquing and wanting to write ambitiously myself seem to go hand in hand-- I guess I'd say I read with a writer's perspective & often write with a reader's perspective. To me, the point about the necessity of nurturing artists' natural ambition is very well-made-- not the shallow ambition you often see in fandom of just being popular or reaching a wider audience, but the deeper artistic ambition of Being Good, which sort of implies a greater audience as a by-product. Admittedly, with visual art, it's just a lot more obvious how much you need technical mastery of your medium to really achieve your desired effect and reach people. With writing, it's so easy to be like 'this is just my style' or 'this is my preference/idea'. It's like, well, anyone can have an idea; the point is to competently and plausibly manifest it.

I guess one of the things about caring about one's art, also, is always taking it seriously (that work-ethic thing is really about being a personal value system). Like, it's about not saying 'this is just for fun' vs. 'this is what I'm paid for, so I do it well'; not seeing that division as worthwhile. But the truth is, it really does get a lot more messy when you try and translate truths about visual art or music to writing. Man, I've always thought that really sucked. :/

EDIT - He gets more specific on what 'good' is in design in his earlier essay. And he echoes my own experience as a writer, that better = less empty ornament and 'evasion' of meaning, more streamlined simplicity <3. Yeay for simplicity!! :D :D Though he also adds other guidelines like 'timeless' & 'suggestive' and some that don't translate quite as well to writing -.- I love this bit, though: "If you're not working hard, you're probably wasting your time." :D
~~

I also really liked his essays on good vs. bad procrastination & how to do what you love. He has this way of explaining things simply and rationally without being too dry or literal-minded (which I always find extremely annoying), and he has a way of saying things that weren't quite obvious until he said them the way he did. I LOVE it when people do that :D And I really enjoyed his essay called 'What You Can't Say'; not just 'cause it made me smirk thinking about fandom or made me think in general, but because (I have to admit) it makes me just that much more smug than I was right before :> I wouldn't mind becoming Noam Chomsky just 'cause I couldn't keep my mouth shut though; I mean... it may be inconvenient to be distracted by idiots, but this guy underestimates the value of having an idealistic streak, methinks.

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