The Stories Begun

{April 12, 2011}   Excising the artiste.

When Kitty Burns Florey graduated from high school, there were Great Expectations for her future.  She had Potential.  She could become a true WRITER.

When she arrived at college, a kind and wise professor sat her down and explained why the writing style she had learned in high school was not the kind of writing the college professors or any editor was looking for.  Florey credits this as an hour that truly changed her life. (Story adapted from Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog by Kitty Burns Florey.)

I think many artists do this.  They make life more complicated.  Recently, on one of my favorite webcomics, the artist tried something new with his art.  I thought it was awesome.  A lot of the readers, though, felt like the story was unclear.  So, in a nod to “the consumer/customer is always correct,” the artist changed the last panel.   He said on his twitter that he “outsmarted” himself.

I think that’s a perfect description, across all arts.  We who create outsmart ourselves, trying so hard to be of a certain caliber that we ruin our art.  In writing the fault is often found in sentence construction and convoluted plot.  Of course, there are all kinds of other faults.  Painfully obvious symbolism, forced metaphors, and ridiculous epic cycles are problems that are easy to pick out and common enough.  I believe this happens when we try to be, or what we perceive to be, a true artist or, as I like to spell it (as it avoids excessive italicizing), artiste.

This is not to say we cannot challenge ourselves in our art.  The artist of All New Issues, Bill Ellis, was trying something new.  For a few of us readers, it worked.  For many, it did not.  It was good that he tried.  It is good that all artists try to expand and grow.  Sometimes that attempt ends up in round file.  Sometimes it’s wildly successful.  Most times, that attempt at something new ends up right in the middle, requiring many separate occasions of practice to get the new skill good enough, much less perfect.

In the mean time, I think writers need to become comfortable with “normal” writing.  This is not to say banal writing, but the writing that comes out without thought or effort.  My “normal” writing is extremely conversational.  I naturally assume an audience, and begin a conversation with them.  Of course, it’s very one-sided and occasionally becomes a lecture.  These are problems I need to fix.  However, I am at the point where I’m comfortable “talking” with my audience.  Is my writing informal?  Yes, very much so.  Is it better for it?  I like to think so.

Now, please don’t mistake that last sentence to mean informal = better.  That is not necessarily the case.  It is the case for me because my natural writing style is informal.  There are some people who naturally fall into a formal rhythm that is so beautiful and effortless that I turn green.  For those, I would encourage them to become comfortable with the formality of their writing.  Yes, it will alienate some readers, but artists will never please even a majority of the people a minority of the time.  Accept that fact.  While you do write for others, make sure you are also writing for yourself.  Don’t lose the artist to the possible critic.

Some writers will tell you that we put on and off writing styles like clothing.  I think that’s a bad comparison.  I think it’s more like haircuts.  Even in the shortest of cuts, under the surface there are roots still left.  Those roots are what we, as artists, need to discover and find a style that shows them to their best effect.  Simple as that.  Change can happen, does happen, and is a good thing, but it takes some time to accomplish, just as it takes a bit of time for a haircut to settle and look like it really is supposed to, or to grow out if it’s horrific.

I caution against trying to make sudden changes.  Like firing a gun too large, there will be kickback too strong if you try to take on an unwise, too sudden change.  Focus on small things.  Focus on what needs to be done, and eventually what you want to be done will happen without you knowing it.  That’s the beauty of making small changes over time.

And, of course, don’t let your artiste stifle your inner artist.  The second one is so much more important.  The first tries to make everything oh-so-impressive, the second tries to make the art genuine–true to the artist, true to audience, true to itself.  I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of art I want to be creating.

Remember: artist, not artiste.  Until next week,



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