Monday, February 7

smoke and mirrors

I had a strange week last week, full of flatness and a decided lack of inspiration. It wasn’t writer’s block (whatever that is) – you have to be trying to move forward to encounter a blockage. Instead, I was vaguely unhappy about having no desire to move forward. It was like being in fog, or thick smoke. Like I couldn't see farther than my hand, so it was most prudent to stand still.

I listened to an interview with Iain Banks (or Iain M Banks). He writes under both names, publishing high-end sci-fi and critically-acclaimed non-genre. He said that he had no clue what writer’s block was and apologized for being flippant about it. I want to identify with that perspective one day. So far, so good, but it’s early. It’s the lack of motivation that gets me sometimes.

So I posted old stuff, a story and a poem. Bloggers love comments, we do, but stories and (especially) poetry don’t encourage them the way current events and navel-gazing does.

A friend and I agreed that commenting on poetry is intimidating. There’s this sort of expectation to “get” what the writer was saying, even when it’s (unavoidably) so ambiguous with poetry. Poetry is meant to be full of the unobvious, sometimes only meant to be pretty, but always brimming over with implied metaphors.

Commenting on poetry is like describing a ship that passes in the fog.

If we’ve been to school, studied poetry (for example), there’s this ingrained reaction to critique according the metrics we were taught – the metrics of criticism. Often, we were told to avoid trying to read it as auto-biography, but there’s always the temptation to do just that – to try to see into the artist’s mind and learn about them. That temptation is naturally stronger when we’re viewing famous works by famous artists, but I think the professors are right no matter what. We should avoid it.

If we get caught up with studying craft too much, or looking for biographical clues, or practicing pseudo-forensic psychiatry, then we miss the beauty of art; the chance to let is wash over us and teach us about ourselves the way a fortune teller reads tea leaves. We need to steep ourselves in art and then, during and much later, read the detritus it washes up onto the sides of the cup.

I agree with the thought that art is a mirror. Of society? Yes, but I think the most prevalent value of art is as a mirror we use to see our selves in.

Even when we just want to make something pretty, with no meaning at all beyond the beauty of creating, if we share it, there’s the mirror. Somebody sees it and they see… what? Something of themselves. Has to happen. We look and see that post, picture, story, poem through our own lens. And we see our selves in our reaction to it. If we’re looking for it. The better the art, often the more profound the reaction. But not always.

Sometimes it’s just serendipitous timing and the mundane provokes violent upheavals. Other times, the most amazing art barely makes a ripple. But there’s always the mirror, telling us about ourselves if we are willing to listen. It’s a mystery. I love that, the use of art to help solve ourselves.

I read this a couple weeks ago and it has stuck with me like a virus.

"It has always seemed strange to me... the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second." ~ John Steinbeck

It’s a blatant societal mirror, but it works on a personal level too. What do we value?

ALSO: If you haven’t already, you should go check out Judy Clement Wall’s Love Project. I think it’s kind of beautiful; a grass rootsy kind of thing that could turn into a tsunami. I hope it does. A love tsunami – it’s a nice thought.

ALSO AGAIN: Annie Syed talks about art and originality in her Still Sundays post this week. She’s always worth reading, but if you’re an artist, it’s especially pertinent.