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The Business of Art

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Hello! I'm experimenting with blogging every day. Because I'm very new to this, I need your help. Please take a minute to drop me a line and let me know what you think. I will post stories, thoughts, and possibly recipes (if I'm having an off day). Here's the post for today.

I'm not an art expert. I have no degree in art history or any of the humanities. I can't even tell you if cubism came before realism. Nor do I particularly care, to be honest. But something interesting happened to me over the last few years. I discovered I like to write fiction. And this led me to think a lot about art. So I read some about it and went to some exhibitions and such. If a piece of art speaks to me, then it does. If it makes me think about something from a different perspective, if it inspires me to tell a story, then it does. So I can talk about art from a "consumer's" perspective.

But I hate the word consumer in this context. I don't like that art is becoming content. I hate that I must market myself if I want to be a "serious writer". I get that if I don't market myself, my stories will reach nobody because there's so much content out there. But there's an inherent tension in marketing art. Art is supposed to be subversive. It's supposed to make you think, to challenge your worldview, to challenge social norms. And when writers need to create "content" to market their art, their art becomes content. It becomes the subject of likes and claps and reads. Then, you stop creating to challenge people, and you start making things that people are more likely to read and like. You stop creating art and start creating content.

Ray Bradbury said it, of course, so much better than me: "It is a lie to write in such a way as to be rewarded by money in the commercial market. It is a lie to write in such a way as to be rewarded by fame offered you by some snobbish quasi-literary group in the intellectual gazettes." (Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing, 1973). He also says: "What we are trying to do is find a way to release the truth that lies in all of us."

In an ideal world, it would be the other way around. Art, marketed through the internet, would reach everyone and cause everyone to think critically. Art will challenge everyone's worldview and everyone's assumptions. But I don't see this happening. Instead, I see thousands of writers who create formulaic content to be consumed and clicked on and liked.

My stories don't fit the formula. I tried. I read The Writer's Journey and took copious notes. I went through dozens of plotting workshops and blog posts and workbooks. Everything I've read had helped me, but time and again I find that my stories don't fit neatly into that format. I'm more interested in people than in plot twists. I'm more interested in the daily experiences of ordinary people than the great adventures of heroes.

Luckily for me, I'm nearly 40 now. If I were 25, I would have thought there was something wrong with me. Even now, this is the first thought that goes through my mind. And I also have the privilege that I don't need to be a commercial success to put food on the table. I'm not saying that to boast; I'm saying that to recognise that many people don't have that privilege. Many people create content because clicks and likes and claps pay the bills. Art rarely does. But I'm experienced enough and lucky enough to know my truth and be able to follow it. And if that's something you'd like to read, I invite you to come along.


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