Thus revealed, the creature buried its nose in the tire-tilled soil...
February 22, 2013
Ramblings about art and writing and stuff
Category: Art … Miscellany

So this artist I know posted a thing about feeling inadequate when she browses DeviantArt -- in part because other artists (some of whom are younger than she is) are so awesome (presumably more awesome than she feels she is, otherwise she wouldn't feel bad about it). I responded with some hokey-sounding pretentious (and totally sincere) bullshit that probably makes me seem like the old man that I am.

I almost never truly feel inadequate when it comes to artistic talent! I think it stems from an understanding of personal style: there are definitely people more skilled at certain techniques than I am, but I've never seen anyone who draws (or writes, as is more often the case) quite like I do. So I certainly look forward to improving my own skills, and I'm eager to learn from other people, but I don't compare myself to other people because they're not me. No matter how good those other people are, they'll never be me.

Like I said, hokey-sounding pretentious bullshit -- but I really do never feel inferior when I browse the work of others. On DeviantArt, that's largely because I feel that drawing isn't my artistic strength. That's not to say that I think I'm completely without skill, and I often feel that much more skilled artists are less suited to certain artistic undertakings than I am (I feel like I do a really good job of drawing specific people, even though I don't even draw people with noses and/or ears). But even when it comes to writing, I'm never intimidated or humbled when I read other people's stuff.

Admittedly, part of that is because so much popular best-selling fiction is so bad. J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer are household names and rich as fuck, but honestly? I read their writing and feel like it's so inferior to my own that I could vomit. They might be amazing storytellers -- I can't gauge that, since their writing is so bad that I can't even stomach it long enough to appreciate the stories (I barely got through the first Harry Potter book and couldn't even stomach three full pages of the first Twilight novel) -- but as skilled writers? Blech. There's just no poetry to their prose, and what's worse is that there's not even any discernible attempt at it. I don't think Stephen King is a great writer either (and I do like Stephen King), but he tries. And while I've only read (some and barely any of) what Rowling and Meyer have written, I've concluded that they don't try at all -- perhaps because they're so focused on padding their bank accounts, and they know what sells rather than what's good.

In any case, when it comes to my own writing, I am pretty confident. I'll never be a best-selling author, of course -- I just don't write the sort of thing that large numbers of people are able to appreciate. I think the thing that enables writers like Rowling and Meyer to succeed is that their stories are character driven: even though the writing is atrocious, one who can endure it long enough to form an attachment to the character will continue to endure it due to said attachment. (I'm the same way with television shows. For example, "Doctor Who" is really not very good now, but I keep watching because of my boundless love for the classic series and continued devotion to the Doctor. No matter who's playing him or how badly his stories are written, I want to see what happens to him next.)

My stories, however, are not character driven. I have protagonists, and they have their own backstories and quirks, but they're basically akin to the bouncing ball on a sing-a-long program. Sure, this ball or that may be white or blue, and if you're watching the Disney Channel it might be comprised of three balls (one larger one with two smaller balls for ears), but its function is primarily to move you from the beginning of the song to the next word and the next until you reach the end. My primary interests as a writer are in the events and the setting -- the characters are props and window dressing -- and I delight in constructing epic metaphors and spinning interesting phrases. In terms of painting, I ultimately don't care whether I'm painting a landscape or a pebble on a piece of styrofoam: I care about the brush strokes and the canvas and the license I take in distorting the shapes to achieve the effect I desire. These elements, for me, are where the artistry, the poetry, the skill -- and the fun -- lie. And while I know I have room for improvement, I think I'm already damned good at what I do.

Again, I know I have room for improvement. While I don't find characterization to be all that interesting -- I almost never relate to characters (in writing), which perhaps speaks to my deficiencies as a human being -- I would like to improve at it, to the extent that perhaps someday I could actually turn out a novel. (As it is, though my short stories are getting longer -- sometimes undesirably so -- they're still only set pieces that could never properly sustain book-length works.) I look forward to improving. But that doesn't mean that I feel bad about where I am now as an artist, and, in any case, I have never read anything that made me feel bad about it. I have read works that inspired me, works that intrigued me, works that delighted me, and works that disgusted me, but I have never read the book or even the story that I would proudly write if only I didn't suck so much (though I have read some that are similar). My work is my own, and it comes from a place that only I inhabit. (I do somewhat fear, though, that only I inhabit this place -- such that, as brilliantly written as it may be, my work will never be appreciated by anyone because I am the only one who can properly relate to it.)

What does make me feel bad, though, has little to do with the work itself. I know that most people probably wouldn't think much of my work, but I can comfort myself with the knowledge that they prefer stuff of inferior quality and the fantasy that, in 2032 (if humanity survives that long), someone will stumble across my stories on and be so impressed that I end up in the company of other brilliant but forgotten writers on the syllabus of some university professor's fiction course.

I am, however, somewhat upset by the certainty that none of my artistic friends think I have any comparable talent whatsoever. The girl who wrote that on Facebook -- she is really good. I have a number of acquaintances who excel at art, and they sell their work for a tidy profit at conventions and the like. And I wonder what they think of me, but I don't really wonder because I know: they don't think anything of me. Sometimes they say nice things, but I'm convinced they're just saying it -- I might as well be drawing stick figures in the sand as far as they're concerned.

I feel inferior when I think about that.

-posted by Wes | 7:58 pm | Comments (0)
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