Art is a difficult thing to believe in these days. Even though I insist on writing, I often wonder, given the state of the world and particularly the country I live in, am I just hiding behind my art? Am I, as artists have so often been accused of being, simply egotistical, self-serving, and shallow for wanting to continue what I started when I was in fourth grade?
Of course, in all that time since fourth garde there were years that I didn’t write. There were years in which I berated myself for not having “discipline.” Also years in which I stabbed at writing something, and looked at my work and thought that it wasn’t “real writing.” It is as difficult now as it was then to believe that my art, that what I create, matters.
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? Art always has be clawed out of some sort of life. The intensity of the world may change but the messages don’t, or they haven’t changed in my life time anyway.
A few of the messages I have received during the span of my writing life:
Don’t quit your day job.
Read Proust, Faulkner, Nabokov, etc.etc.etc.
Read The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic, etc.etc.etc.
Get an MFA Teach in a college
Have a platform
Have a brand
Have something important to say
And so on.
I have two things pinned on the wall above my desk. One is a piece of paper that says, “Rise up and figure it out for yourself.” The other is a button that says, “Writing is Revolutionary.”
The “Rise Up” quote reminds me that no matter what sort of difficulty I am tangling with in my prose, I will have to figure it out for myself. No one hands you answers when you’re an artist.
And the button, “Writing is Revolutionary,” reminds me that to carve out any sort of creative life is an act of rebellion. To insist on time to create, to insist on quiet and spaciousness, to clear psychic space for art are all acts that go against the grain. They are revolutionary, no matter what audience the art reaches or doesn’t reach.
If an artist reaches some sort of national recognition for her work, her stubborn insistence on creating time and space for herself is often labeled as brilliance. But don’t expect it while working alone in your studio. In fact, don’t expect it at all. Or even yearn for it. To do so will surely throw you off the rails of the track you must doggedly stay on. Most artists are simply dogged.
Art, in the end, publicly appreciated or not, is a gamble. Art is a crap shoot. Art is betting on the horse with the lame leg ridden by the 300 pound jockey. There’s not a chance of winning, but still, isn’t that jockey, that limping horse beautiful? Don’t they stand out? Did anything stop them from being in the race?