I regularly read two publishing industry blogs to keep up with the news and opinions. One is Between The Lines, the blog of the Books & Such Literary Agency. This agency serves the Christian booksellers market, and could be considered closely aligned with the trade (sometimes called traditional) publishing model. Their five agents rotate through the week with a daily post. The other blog I read is The Passive Voice. This is by a lawyer who re-posts and sometimes comments on news from the publishing industry. This blog is closely aligned with the self-publishing model. Both blogs have a community of readers/commenters, and I comment at both blogs from time to time.
Being part of the self-publishing industry, I tend to be more in agreement with TPV than with BtL. I keep reading the latter, however, because I want to keep up with news and trends in the other side of the industry. I’ve tried other blogs, but find BtL as easy to read, and it provides an adequate sampling of what I’m looking for.
So, all that said, I recently read this on the BtL blog:
“The need for money is the bane of art. Oh for the days of good old-fashioned patrons of the arts. Writing for the paycheck is the fastest way to kill a career. Each book needs to be better than the last, if we’re to build over time.”
This irks me. “The need for money is the bane of art.” How? How is commercial viability a bad thing, but whatever is not commercially viable a good thing? Commercial viability (a.k.a. artists making money off their art) indicates people are willing to pay to own or use the art. This, in turn, is a reflection of what society believes is good art. The inability of an artist, by which I mean anyone who does artistic things as a career, which would include writing, to sell his art indicates that society doesn’t believe he’s producing good art. Who is a better judge of what art is good: society, or the artist who produces it?
The writer of that phrase is implying that the need to produce art that society will accept as good and pay for somehow compromises the artist’s creativity. Follow the supposed train of thought by the artist: I need to feed myself and my family. No one’s buying the art that I produce, even though I think it’s good. But they are buying that [genre of book; type of painting; method of sculpture; etc.]. So maybe I should just emulate that artist and produce art I don’t this is good so I can feed my family. I guess I won’t be able to produce the stuff that I think is good but which society apparently doesn’t think is good.
What’s the solution to this? The original poster said, “Oh for the good old-fashioned patrons of the arts.” Their solution: For the artist to find a source of Other Peoples’ Money, to allow them to produce art they believe is good, even though no one wants it. And this is supposed to free the artist to produce whatever they believe is good. This is supposed to advance the arts, to produce stuff that people think isn’t worth paying for?
I could go many ways with this. Is artistic creativity really stifled by having to produce art that people want to buy? Cannot an artist be creative while staying “inside the box” or “between the lines”, or within the range of commercial viability? I think they can. I’ve said often before that my favorite type of poetry is formal poetry. Give me a sonnet, a ballad, a haiku, or a cinquain any day. Give me those constraints, and I’ll produce something with artistic creativity. Inside-the-box creativity is equally creative as outside-the-box creativity.
It always amazes me that people want to pigeon-hole creativity by saying it can only happen outside the box, and that it can’t happen on the lines. It’s funny that, in wanting the maximum artistic freedom, they say creativity can only happen one way. Once again, I reject that. I believe my creativity is best released by being presented with boundaries, and, since my art is the written word, finding words that do something new and different within the boundaries.
That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it. Any comments?