Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Merit

Now Playing: Type O Negative - Green Man

During my first year at university, I saw Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy's oddly complicated but interesting documentary about a dozen different things: himself, street art, Mr. Brainwash and their friendship, other graffiti artists, their work and influences, etc. It's complex, but only because it's so ambitious. Not to give too much away, but as it closes, it takes an almost cynical look at the merit of art, and it leaves you with a lot of questions: What is art? What makes art good? Are there people who just don't understand art? Are there artists who don't deserve that title?

I didn't start Millennium Girl after Exit Through the Gift Shop. But I found Wendy and Yukiko a few days afterwards. (They showed up before my protagonist. They were also, at first, a lot younger).

I've grown up surrounded by artists of all kind--musicians, painters, photographers, writers, a handful who tried sculpting. The closest friends I made in middle school and high school had some kind of connection to the arts, and I think a part of me somewhat admired how unpretentious they all were. And how utterly disinterested they were in trying to be shocking or controversial or critical in their work. No one regularly aimed for philosophical themes or painted deeply political subjects that criticized the government and society.

There were artists in the school who did that--used their mediums as a way to talk about or analyze something. And, you know, sometimes it's not entirely avoidable. I've done it by accident, I've done it on purpose. I've been that kind of writer: start with a theme then go off into the story.

But I wasn't friends with the critical, political, philosophical artists. I was friends with the artists who drew fantasy character designs and dragons, who painted cats with really colorful geographical shapes or sculpted them out of tin foil.

It doesn't mean I don't admire people who are deeply critical of society through their art. Social commentary is important and art is a powerful vessel to deliver that. I know there's merit in that, I'm not here to discredit something like Orwell's 1984.

But on a personal level, the only people I've really ever been drawn to are people who would answer the question "why do you paint/draw/create?" with "because it's fun."

Not "because I have something to say" or "because it's how I am critical of society." Again, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I just think I am somewhat drawn to people who just find art fun.

I think that's how Wendy become so important to me and Lilith. She is my friends, or at least, she's the culmination of their artistic sides. She runs around Chicago late into the night and tags every brick wall imaginable because she likes it. She knows someone's gonna roll in with a giant paint bucket and cover it up in a few days, and she still does it because she likes the process.

That basic love is important. That's supposed to get you through the tougher times of your artistic career. Love for the craft = perseverance. You're just supposed to keep going because you love the thing you're creating.

And that's. . .a nice sentiment, but it isn't always realistic. At least personally, I have trouble writing when I have other things to worry about. In those times, writing makes me feel guilty because I'm "wasting time" or am not good enough yet or I'm just chasing a pipe dream. Or I'm just too exhausted.

I keep writing but it's not exactly an enjoyable process the whole way through.

No matter where I am, I fear failure. Even if I'm doing something just for fun and I think "it's okay, this isn't leaving my computer," I still fear failure. I don't know how not to come up with a dozen possibilities of how my writing career fizzles out, cools indefinitely, or never even remotely gets a start.

Then two weeks ago--in between running around Miami Beach for errands--I read The Disaster Artist, the book Greg Sestero wrote about his involvement with The Room. And The Room is, for those who don't know, a movie that excels at being terrible. It's incoherent, it's stupid, it's a masterpiece of horrible filmmaking. It's...bad. It's just bad.

And I was expecting the book to be funny given the subject matter, but I wasn't expecting it to hit me so deeply. I talked more about it in the review I did, but basically, the book kind of becomes this intricate look at how being determined and stubborn isn't always a good thing.

The book is about a very specific kind of artistic failure. Not commercial failure since, in the strangest of real life twists, The Room became a smash hit. But a more personal kind. It's a failure because the artist doesn't achieve his intended goal. Tommy Wiseau didn't write and direct some heartbreaking drama filled with the complex relationships of three-dimensional people. He wrote and directed some melodramatic, incoherent, unintentionally funny piece of trash.

But he did it. He started it, he finished it. He was a terrible person the whole way through, but he got it done and it saved him. Making that movie saved him. And it does reveal a lot about him--about how he sees people, what he cares about, his wishes and his fears.

He may be a terrible person and an even worse filmmaker, but he's still, somehow, an artist. And he did that movie because he loved it and he needed it.

It's easy to say this and then get crushed by doubt and fear tomorrow, but I want to say it anyways. If only because I really do believe it right now (even if I won't believe it tomorrow): I could be a terrible writer. And there may come a day when people confirm that little fear and let me know what I've labored over has completely failed.

But even if all I produce is terrible, all my stories are going to have some kind of merit. They're going to say something about me--how I saw the world, how I interacted with people, what I cared about. And they won't have to be deeply philosophical in nature or critical looks at society (although some might be) to be introspective.

I guess that's how I'm going to try and come to grips with failure. I've always known it's going to happen and it's not going to be pleasant and I'll have to deal with it. But even then, there'll be something worthwhile in my work. If not in the end product, in the process. If not in the process, in the inception. If not in the inception, in just the love I had for writing in the first place.

There's merit in that, right? However small that may be.
Becky

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"Science and science fiction have done a kind of dance over the last century... The scientists make a finding. It inspires science fiction writers to write about it, and a host of young people read the science fiction and are excited, and inspired to become scientists...which they do, which then feeds again into another generation of science fiction and science..."
- Carl Sagan, in his message to future explorers of Mars.