Every artist takes a journey, and like falling-in-love that journey changes as first blush becomes a memory and objectivity becomes a goal. But I have a concern: are we, as a commercially-bound society obsessed with the idea that writing has to be an easily digestible consumer good?
If you’re a literary agent, clearly the answer is yes. But it’s important to ask writers. The “Artists” themselves, or are they “Storytellers” and not artists. Or both? What is a writer, and how should one be judged?
In one sense, my first reaction to the question is to draw a line in the sand as I’ve done in the past for my profession—not to be mistaken with professional-writing, because like most writers I know (even published writiers), I don’t make my living wage from writing. In my profession, I provide professional services and manufacture consumer goods, and the most important aspect of my job is to give the customer what they expect. Sometimes, I can sneak in a bit of creativity. Most often, I am applauded for “my creativity” while as an artist, I know that 99% of my creativity was actually removed from the product and replaced with something that meets the customer’s commercial expectations.
But please don’t cry for me—the poor artist who’s product was stripped of its creativity—I’m a professional provider of goods and services. I’m not personally or emotionally attached to that which I produce. In fact, as the producer, I know that my first goal is to design a product in a way that the customer will have no trouble at all accepting. I often go through a process called “Market & Trend Analysis” (a fancy way of saying, I did my homework) to produce a likable result.
There’s no disputing that the entertainment industries—books, movies, music—as well as most industries are seasoned veterans at putting the fruits of market and trend analysis to work. In fact, they usually lean on it with such overbearing necessity that they often wear out the novelty and exhaust consumer demand. That’s called saturating the market.
What happens next is almost hilarious. A market is now left to its own devices to re-invent and re-introduce itself. In fashion (as an example) we get the yearly runway shows. The public often looks at these shows awkwardly, struggling to understand what this “new creativity” means. Unfamiliar things can appear “harsh” and “unattractive”, yet the artists who create them spare no time or expense in presenting polished and well-crafted work—work that has been brought to a level that is typically above-and-beyond its requirements for commercial consumption. Yet even respectable critics have trouble deciphering the circus of newness before them. And to be honest, many new things are recycled ideas from past successes. But while most struggle to accept, the magic continues. The early adopters start to take their chances—they place their bets and the Stylists dress the Celebrities in somewhat watered-down versions of the Artist’s first presentations, or sometimes even dare to embrace the raw form (circa 2010, think “Lady Gaga”, aka: Trend-setter). A begrudging and reluctant crowd of critics and consumers begin to warm up to… something new.
So back to writing, a slower, more peaceful and less suspecting provocateur of an industry. Where do we go from here? The oldest argument is still the oldest argument: “Writers of a century ago would never get published in today’s fast-paced and demanding market”. Oh really? New, trouble-making writers are sneaking in under the radar of commercially-bound expectations everyday. They’re entering writing contests, they are self-publishing in a new and more openly-connected, worldwide theater of social networks. They are fearless, offensive and beautiful, and dare to be creative while still being professional. Many will inevitably wash away as so much great art of this world does, some will be loosely associated with existing trends as critics work to justify their attraction, and I think some will be unforgettable.