It’s funny really. A lot of literature can be useful. It gives us a language for discussing what it is we like about a story, or a poem. It gives us a language for discussing the differences between two works. But that’s all it is, a language.
Literature geeks, lit majors, professional and armchair critics alike try to use that language as ammunition for trying to set up definitions for what is or isn’t good art.
Thing is, no art is truly bad or good. It’s what is made of it. Frankly, I think if an artist made no effort — put nothing of herself into a work — then perhaps there is some room to argue a work is bad, mostly because is it still art at that point? A painter who really is only making goopy pain swirls, or a writer who really is only stitching clichés together into some insane travesty of a plot …
Neverminding that, though. Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer, J K Rowling and Professor Tolkein, Yoko Ono and Leonardo DaVinci, Mozard and John Prine … these are artist. Maybe you think they’re fantastic, maybe you think them mad, maybe you think them crap — but they are artists.
People may laugh at Rice and Meyer — their stories, from a technical stand point, can be pretty hard to take. Still, there are those to whom those characters spark. The stories, the plots … they speak to these people and the technical failings become ignorable. Certainly those women feel they have put something of themselves into those works — a spiritual, metaphoric, blood sacrifice was made in the construction of those texts and some people feel that and are moved. This is why they are successful.
Rowling and Tolkien are beloved by many, though there are those who, again, using the language of Literature, call them poor and silly. They had the audacity not to follow The Rules. Their books, however, change people’s lives — clearly, they are artists (or were, in the late professor’s case).
Yoko and DaVinci inspire some, bore others. Still, they are artists — they believe in their work. A pile of rocks to one person, is a brilliant statement to the next. Does this make it bad?
Mozart and Prine … ah, music. The very language of the soul. Apparently souls have dialects. To some the beat is most essential, to others it must be everything that comes together to make it jazz, and yet others believe that music must sound angry and loud and screeching — thus is born metal. Still, they aren’t canned nonsense — they are art.
Some things are all technique — maybe they’re good, and maybe that was the point. In that case, perhaps this too is art, though pure technical expertise without any spirit, soul, passion … you border on the mechanical, and it’s been shown that machines cannot make art, “perfect” music played by a machine without so much as a nanosecond mistake in a beat or a note, not one subtle mistuning is actually unpleasant to the human ear. So too can be said of too perfect a story or painting to the eye, or the imagination. Machines have never spoken to anyone (Siri notwithstanding).
This, I think, is why I tend to dislike literary discussions and a lot of literary criticism in general. What makes a story great or not isn’t if they do or don’t use too many adverbs or clichés; it’s not about the three act structure; it’s not about character arcs. What makes a story great is when it speaks to someone’s soul, or sparks their imagination, tugs at their emotions, or makes them happy and bubble with laughter. That is a great story.
In that way, Twilight and Interview With a Vampire are terrific stories. Maybe they’re not as good as others — something about them doesn’t as often speak to people twice. You will find people saying “God, why did I like this, again?” That doesn’t mean they’re bad, just less great, because they did speak to them in the first place … just not anymore.
We can discuss books, we can use Literature — as a language — to meaningfully say how a story makes us feel and what elements really inspire us. Why should we use it to try to quantify art, though? One man’s pornography is another man’s beautiful play of light on the human form and, even if it is hardcore fetish erotica, perhaps a statement of something — true, it certainly helps if there was any intention that the shot be any such thing, but still. If we mean to make art, then we do, full stop. If we mean to make a buck, then we do — but it’s a formula and nothing a clever enough machine couldn’t do one day in the future; there’s no art.
We can use the language to say, too, what we don’t like about a story. Thus, through the fun quirks of English — we can discuss how “bad” Harry Potter or Motzart’s Fifth are, because we can now say what it is that we don’t like. This is okay too, but we shouldn’t exactly say they’re bad stories — bad stories and bad music do not have the notoriety that those two have.
Some people like coffee, some like tea. Just because two people don’t agree doesn’t mean that one is right and one is wrong, just that they’re human and no two humans are exactly the same (well, arguments regarding identical twins aside).
- Anne Rice Was My Gateway Drug (theblackabbey.wordpress.com)
- Playlist from my Radio Debut (scottcthompson.wordpress.com)
- Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling announce new movie franchise: Fantastic Beasts And Where to Find Them (thepawprintgreenwoodnews.wordpress.com)
- Discovering John Prine: A Memoir of My Muse (awaywithwordsblog.com)
- John Prine (ryanharmonmusic.wordpress.com)