May

30

As A Writer, Do You Care About The Reader?

Posted by : E.v.R. | On : May 30, 2006

The art vs. entertainment debate has fired up again over at Melly’s place. I’ve clearly got both feet in the entertainment camp, and I’ll tell you why.

As a storyteller, I only care about the reader’s experience. And this is the fundamental difference between art and entertainment. Art is not necessarily concerned with the audience’s experience. Art is art. It need not justify itself to anyone or anything. It is something that sits on a pedestal, behind a glass case, or a painted line on the exhibit floor that says “Do not cross.”

My problem with the label of art is that it protects the artist. If millions of people hate your work, you can easily write off their opinions with, “But it’s art!” You needn’t change a thing or improve yourself, except to whatever degree suits your fancy or tickles your ego.

I’m more than happy to send my work out into the world without the bulletproof vest label of ‘art.’ I will be happy to let readers shoot my work to pieces. Nothing is sacred, my story least of all. If it is a good story, it will be able to protect itself by its own inherent virtues. It needn’t hide behind a label which calls it sacred.

Entertainment cares about the reader–because the reader ultimately decides whether entertainment is ‘entertaining.’ But who defines art?

The artists.

Art only cares that the artist gets to express themselves. Entertainment only cares whether the reader has a satisfying experience.

The job of an entertainer is to entertain. The job of an artist is to… what? Create something.

There is no prescription for the thing that is created. The end result doesn’t have to meet any particular standard, except those prescribed by the form. And those are not rules, merely guidelines. So really, anything goes.

Entertainment ultimately has to be entertaining. It’s a simple metric. If it’s entertaining, then it succeeds. If it’s not, then it fails.

But how can you judge whether art succeeds or fails? You can’t. It’s entirely subjective. I choose not to hide behind subjectives.

Either my novel will be entertaining, or it won’t. If it’s not, then I failed.

Ultimately what determines whether or not my work is entertaining is how much thought I’ve given to the reader’s experience.

Can the same always be said for art?

In other words, entertainment has the customer or reader at the center of importance. Art has the artist at the center of importance.

Why does the creator have to be the center of importance? Shouldn’t the audience be the center of importance?

Art doesn’t necessarily care for the reader. Entertainment does–because the entire foundation of entertainment is dependent on whether or not the customer had a good time.

I care about the reader and I want them to have a good time. This is more important than all the art or artistry in the universe.

Comments (6)

  1. Jon said on 30-05-2006

    I agree, fuck artists!

    No, I hear what you’re saying. :) I’m inclined to agree with those sentiments as well. I’ve always had abundant pragmatism and a total lack of self-indulgence that molded my opinions that way.

    Even on a personal level, how many people enjoy art above being entertained?

  2. Melly said on 30-05-2006

    Eric, wow. I had no idea my post was about that, but maybe you’re right since I do make the distinction between talented craftspeople and talented artists.

    I’m an example of a reader who completely skips the popular fiction aisle and walks immediately to the literary section (or sci-fi :)
    So naturally, I want to write for people like me.

    I have a few questions:
    First, why would you think that art cannot be or isn’t entertaining?

    Second, is it so hard to understand that I want to write for people like me who prefer literary over popular fiction?

    Third, Why does it get you fired up so? I have long said that your point of view is a valid one in my eyes. I understand it and accept it, but I cannot change who I am (nor do I want to). What am I missing here?

    This was all written in good spirit (I’m adding this just in case :)

  3. redchurch said on 30-05-2006

    Melly,

    “First, why would you think that art cannot be or isn’t entertaining?”

    Art can be entertaining. But that is not its primary aim. I’m not sure what the primary aim of art is, if there is one. Most often its purpose is just experimentation, or to make the creator happy. Both of those are fine, but neither necessarily result in a great product. In fact, the product is often not the aim–which is all fine too. But then the creator goes and mixes up their goal… they want to make art, but they also want to have a strong product as well. These are often contrasting sets of goals. Not mutually exclusive in all cases–but definitely in some.

    “Second, is it so hard to understand that I want to write for people like me who prefer literary over popular fiction?”

    It’s not hard to understand. You write what you like. You shouldn’t appease the market at the expense of what you want or like to write.

    I’m just saying, likes & dislikes are a limited method for picking your form. That’s only the first step for picking what you want to write.

    Personally, I would look for a steeper challenge. Making your work accessible is a huge challenge, regardless of the type of work you like to do.

    My problem with the more artistic route is it seems the easy way out from making your work accessible. In other words, if you pick the artsy route, there is this… unspoken free pass, you can do whatever you want and not have to pay a price for it. You can do anything you want and call it art.

    I don’t think that negates the need to make work accessible. Not in the slightest. I don’t think there are any free passes in that area. Whether you choose artsy or not, if the audience doesn’t like it, they don’t like it. Hiding behind the label of art cannot save you there.

    So my point is, striving for art doesn’t have much to do with making your work accessible. But every writer could benefit from making their work more accessible. That’s not the aim of art, though. Pop art maybe, but art in general seems to favor the obscure and the obfuscated–something I’ve never really understood.

    “Third, Why does it get you fired up so? I have long said that your point of view is a valid one in my eyes. I understand it and accept it, but I cannot change who I am (nor do I want to). What am I missing here?”

    It fires me up because I once was very art-minded. I used to think that there were no rules, anything goes, and that nobody could predict success. I also used to think that marketing, as a field of study, was a load of nonsense, and that nobody could know, predict, hone, or improve the sales of anything. I used to think it was all completely random, the world was driven by pure serendipity and random rolls of the dice.

    I do not believe those things anymore. I was foolish, naive, and also just plain young. ;)

    If everything we create is a form of communication, including our works of ‘art’ – then what does it pay for us to be obscure? What does it pay for us to obfuscate? Why make our works LESS accessible?

    Often it seems art has that in mind for a goal. The be a part of some elite circle that criticizes the mainstream, yet cannot display any universal values within its own work. It often seems the goal of art to hide values, to obscure them. To cover up or erode intention. Trying too hard to be mysterious? I’m not sure. All I know is that much of what art focuses on is making things less accessible, not more. I think that is a misguided tendency at best, and perhaps something a little more sinister and snotty at worst.

    I also feel strongly about it because I used to strive for art in the past, but without having any concrete goal or purpose for art itself–it is a fruitless endeavor. Struggling towards what? That is the key question. The market is measurable, and even objective when looked at from a certain angle. Art is almost the opposite. It is entirely subjective, and there is no adequate measure of whether you did well or not. In a way, performance doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how well you did or didn’t do. Because it’s all “art.”

    I think there are a lot of frustrated artists, like I used to be. All I’m saying is… striving for art is one major source of frustration in itself. It’s a battle that cannot be won, and if anything, is only a measure of ones’ vanity. Quite literally, a struggle in vain. Perhaps you’ll never know if you produced something ‘great’ by art standards. But it’s relatively easy to find out if you produced something accessible–by the measure of the public reaction to it.

    I think a lot of artists want to draw attention to their work. But by choosing the art route, they’ve already marginalized themselves. So you have a conflicting set of goals there. Or in a way, I don’t feel some people aiming for art are being honest with themselves. I get fired up about that, because the ways in which I’ve hurt myself the most as a person and a creative are by not being honest with myself. Because art in its very nature is so subjective, there’s a lot of room for dishonesty. Self-dishonesty being the most damaging.

    THAT is why it gets me riled up. :)

  4. Melly said on 30-05-2006

    Okay, so I’m kind of smiling here now… Can’t help it, sorry :)

    “My problem with the more artistic route is it seems the easy way out from making your work accessible. In other words, if you pick the artsy route, there is this… unspoken free pass, you can do whatever you want and not have to pay a price for it. You can do anything you want and call it art.”
    Three problems here: 1)How’s wanting to make your work good (good=art), the easy way out? 2)One cannot call their own work art, they can only say this is what they tried for, so the artist/creator cannot really hide behind anything. Quite the opposite, the standards/criticism are much higher and success more difficult. Easy way out? I don’t think so. 3)Not paying a price? I thought you said art isn’t accessible and therefore won’t sell (two points which I disagree with, but you said them) – so isn’t that a price to pay?

    “I don’t think that negates the need to make work accessible.”
    For some reason you’ve decided that art isn’t accessible or that artists don’t want their work accessible. Making it both good and accessible is an art in itself ;) sorry, couldn’t resist.

    “Whether you choose artsy or not, if the audience doesn’t like it, they don’t like it. Hiding behind the label of art cannot save you there.”
    Exactly – so what difference does it make?

    “It fires me up because I once was very art-minded. I used to think that there were no rules, anything goes, and that nobody could predict success.”
    Again, why would you say/think that art has no rules. Quite the contrary. Picasso first learnt all the rules about painting before he knew how to utilize them and break them.

    “I also used to think that marketing, as a field of study, was a load of nonsense, and that nobody could know, predict, hone, or improve the sales of anything. I used to think it was all completely random, the world was driven by pure serendipity and random rolls of the dice.”
    That’s what you believed, not the ideas of all artists. Not by a long shot. I know quite a few artists who have also mastered the art of marketing ;) and know how to direct their careers. Randomality? I hardly think artists believe in that.

    “If everything we create is a form of communication, including our works of ‘art’ – then what does it pay for us to be obscure? What does it pay for us to obfuscate? Why make our works LESS accessible?”
    Who says anything about obscurity and being less accessible. I think the problem may lie in the fact that usually most (not all) those who read popular fiction do not read literary, and come to think of it as inaccessible.
    The same isn’t true the reverse – those who read literary, occasionally do delve into mainstream.

    “The market is measurable, and even objective when looked at from a certain angle. Art is almost the opposite. It is entirely subjective, and there is no adequate measure of whether you did well or not. In a way, performance doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how well you did or didn’t do. Because it’s all “art.””
    Maybe that’s what really bothers you, the subjectivity of art, the fact you can’t measure it, and yet I think you can. Maybe not in sales, but otherwise. Take Oprah’s book club, she helped many literary writers improve their sales for example. Sometimes, exposure is all that is needed. Of course it matters how well one does, but that isn’t what remains over time.

    It’s a battle that cannot be won, and if anything, is only a measure of ones’ vanity.” – why thank you ;)

    “Because art in its very nature is so subjective, there’s a lot of room for dishonesty. Self-dishonesty being the most damaging.”
    I’m not sure what that is all about. You’re right, dishonesty, self or otherwise is damaging, but I don’t see how that has anything to do with art. I can scream that my work is art until I’m blue in the face, that doesn’t make it so. And yet many aspiring writers (mainstream and not) do get frustrated with the publishing industry, honestly believing their work is good and yet they still can’t get published – are they being dishonest too?
    No, they may or may not be good writers, but they couldn’t get published – what does that have to do with anything?

    Phew!

  5. redchurch said on 31-05-2006

    Melly said:

    “How’s wanting to make your work good (good=art), the easy way out?”

    Because the desire for artistic freedom implies that such freedom will be used efficiently, or used well. I think we both can agree that this is not always true.

    “Quite the opposite, the standards/criticism are much higher and success more difficult.”

    High brow folks attack the mainstream all the time. Why? What is the threat? Are their values that much better? Is their idea of integrity that much better?

    “Making it both good and accessible is an art in itself ;) sorry, couldn’t resist.”

    Why is being accessible or mainstream considered ‘selling out’ then? This is a clear and obvious bias with many art-minded individuals. You can’t deny that there are people who see it that way.

    Why are things like plot or structure considered ‘formulaic’ or a compromise of artistic integrity?

    I’m just calling out what I see, and these attitudes clearly exist. The reason I get riled up is because I feel these attitudes are completely unjustified, and I’d like to find out why they exist in the first place. :)

    As an example… The other day on MetaxuCafe there was snarky rip on Dan Brown. They even placed some of his passages from The DaVinci Code alongside passages from softcore porn novels to prove his writing was of ‘dubious quality.’ He was clearly trying to make a moral association with the writing quality where there was none. Besides, it doesn’t say anything about DaVinci Code as a story. That part of the critique was mysteriously absent. Clearly there is a hatred or jealousy of success within the lit community. The quality of Dan Brown’s writing is irrelevant in light of the fact it’s a story that millions of people enjoyed. So why all the attitude? Why is the lit community threatened by a guy like Dan Brown at all? Wouldn’t it be easier to just ignore him?

    It just smacks of insecurity to me. If you don’t like him, don’t read him. Tearing him a new one doesn’t seem to accomplish anything.

    Why the superiority complex surrounding stuff like this?

    Maybe it makes people feel better about themselves?

    “Maybe that’s what really bothers you, the subjectivity of art, the fact you can’t measure it, and yet I think you can.”

    How exactly can it be measured? Aside from rules of writing or composition, which apply to both high art/lit and mainstream pop novels.

    That’s exactly my point. The art route seems to have some claim on superiority of values, or integrity… and I’m wondering just what those values are and how they’re so much different from pop or even pulp?

    “And yet many aspiring writers (mainstream and not) do get frustrated with the publishing industry, honestly believing their work is good and yet they still can’t get published – are they being dishonest too?”

    Yes. They are perhaps being dishonest with themselves that:

    A) The mainstream publishing industry is the route they should take. Maybe they should self-publish?

    B) The idea that their work is good enough just because they worked hard at it. I think this is the greatest lie of all. And it’s something that all creative people tell themselves at one time or another. It’s the idea that anyone ‘deserves’ success. Nobody does, and heading down that path is just asking for pain and misery. It is the journey of the tortured artist. I think the tortured artist is somebody who lies to themself.

    The whole “It’s their loss!” attitude among the artsy elite—this is probably the worst kind of self-dishonesty. The idea that the publishing world even cares about your ‘art.’ They don’t.

    They just want stuff to sell and make money. That’s what publishing is all about. Either you can cater to that, or you can’t. And if you can’t, there’s no use developing a huffy attitude about it. Continue on down the ‘integrity’ path, or change yourself and your work. Adapt.

    And BTW, I don’t think there is any shame in adapting. This is where the whole ‘sell-out’ thing comes from. Apparently, adaptation is a bad thing in spite of millions of years of evolution. ;-)

    Again, this is just an attitude I’ve encountered. I’m not sure the logic behind it, or why it exists—I just know that it does.

    The fact these attitudes exist beyond rational reasons or logic are exactly why I get riled up about the topic. :)

  6. […] course who could forget my debates with Melly over art vs. […]