by Biljana Likic
Writing has often been described as an insatiable need; the writer has a feeling so immense they feel incomplete until it’s transferred onto paper. That, I’ve been told, is the reason so many people dedicate their lives to writing. It’s like an addiction. And it’s extremely potent; I know quite a few people that would feel like they had no purpose if they couldn’t write.
I think that’s fantastic. As a victim to this need, I can vouch for others that sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying than reaching the point in your story where you finally get to write the scene that sparked it all. Because that’s often how it starts: some part of your piece whinges and whines in your head, wanting out. It could be a whole scene, or it could be a repeated motif, or sometimes just a powerful sentence that you want to see in print. It’s something you feel is so important for others to know, that you’d be genuinely disappointed if you couldn’t tell them.
It’s actually quite poetic.
The problem is, writing, along with other professions like acting, film-making, and even visual artistry, has a bit of a bad rep. It’s becoming the ‘easy way out’. People are becoming actors or writers so they can take a fast road to fame. Stuff is being done quickly and shoddily just for the income. Hardly anybody cares about the art anymore.
That was the argument my friends had the other night, when we, (like all normal teens,) were talking about art and its purposes. More specifically, we were talking about bad art; things you wonder how they were ever made, or who was convinced to shell out that much money. One of my friends has become so disenchanted with Hollywood that she said she wouldn’t care if all the actors were replaced by holograms, because at least that way they’d be of better service to the community; you know, if they were out building houses or fixing broken electricity poles.
I disagreed. Heavily. Can you imagine life without human music? Without real people acting on stage or film? With pictures and drawings that were only computer-generated? Granted, I’m not doing her argument much justice; she was only arguing this for the bad art. But it’s generally only bad if you do it for the money—and sometimes not even.
I do think that some people, writers included, are ridiculously overpaid in what they do. In some parts of the music scene, a few presses of a button is considered a song, and as soon as it’s declared so, the cash starts flowing in provided it’s catchy. George Clooney just has to appear in a movie and it’s a success. But think about it; if the purpose of the art is to entertain, hasn’t that been accomplished? Even when the movie is rip-roaringly bad you can watch it to laugh at it. I’d call that entertainment. So really, even the bad art can be good.
The biggest problem I had with her side was that she was suggesting that all this was the easy road, even when the art is good, just because there’s less studying involved and you don’t have to worry about math, or whatever.
Yes, some people go into showbiz or publishing because they think it’s less work (and they are in for a nasty surprise), and sometimes they’re even convinced that that’s all they could ever do (which I always thought was utter bull; if you know how to put away a file, you know how to be a secretary). That’s when the art can be bad; when there’s no heart in it. Others though do it for the authentic feeling of accomplishment, of the total liberation, however momentary, when one is in the act of reliving and recounting a story through sheer expression of real human emotion. It’s something utterly inexplicable. And not everybody can do it. I will be the first to tell you that. I’ll stand right beside all the teachers and leaders and famous people who try to be friendly and encouraging, saying “Everybody’s an artist,” and tell you that No, not everybody is an artist, because not everybody cares, and not everybody can do it. I’m not trying to be mean, or vicious, or pompous or whatever; I really do believe this. Just the fact that I had that conversation with my friends proved this. I found myself defending Date Movie, for crying out loud, because yeah although that movie is a piece of crap, somebody somewhere found it hilarious, and just because you and I can’t see the merit in it, or have a severe difference in taste, doesn’t mean that we can shoot it down. The quality of art is completely subjective.
So if you want to be a writer, and you write because you need to write, do it. And the next time somebody tells you that your life’s work is pulp fiction, or not deep enough, or won’t do well with critics because it’s only funny and not heart-wrenching and tear-jerking, tell them, very politely, to eff-off.
If you are a writer, if you are an artist, what you do will have merit. Not everybody will like it, but then again people are built for arguments and criticism anyways. Anyone can say, “That book sucks.” Not anyone can write it. You don’t know who it can change, who it can touch, whatever their age, gender, or literary preference may be, because at the end of the day, even the dime-novels are still worth the dime. You might not be out discovering the cure to the latest flu strain, but you will still be improving somebody’s quality of life, no matter how briefly. And that is the purpose of art.
So take that, math and science. We’re needed as much as you are.
I end with a quote from Tom Stoppard’s brilliant play, Arcadia.
“[Don’t] confuse progress with perfectibility. A great poet is always timely. A great philosopher is an urgent need. There’s no rush for Isaac Newton. We were quite happy with Aristotle’s cosmos. Personally, I preferred it. Fifty-five crystal spheres geared to God’s crankshaft is my idea of a satisfying universe. I can’t think of anything more trivial than the speed of light. Quarks, quasars – big bangs, black holes – who gives a shit? How did you people con us out of all that status? All that money? And why are you so pleased with yourselves? [sic] If knowledge isn’t self-knowledge it isn’t doing much, mate. Is the universe expanding? Is it contracting? Is it standing on one leg and singing ‘When Father Painted the Parlour’? Leave me out. I can expand my universe without you. ‘She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies, and all that’s best of dark and bright meet in her aspect and her eyes.’ There you are, he wrote it after coming home from a party.”
Try getting a computer to write that.
Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She’s in her final year of high school, waiting and waiting to graduate, finish university, and finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here, and check out her work on her FictionPress account.