Saturday, April 22, 2006

What's My Line?

It seems as if it is becoming harder and harder to define what a person is, at least in the creative fields. If everybody takes pictures, is everybody a photographer? If everyone in the whole world has a blog, are we all writers? What if you do both? And video? And performance art. And drawing and sculpture and design- both graphic and web?

Most of those doing those things (and there are many who are) aren't very good. But what of the ones that you think are? What of those "artists" that are enormously successful, yet don't impress you in the slightest? Critics are the judges? Please. History? Getting better. There are few artists who have stood the test of time that don't have at least a grudging universal acceptance of their work or, conversely, have gone through cycles of acceptance. Will the timeless greats of today be just as revered one hundred years from now? The popular writers of today, well, that's another question. Will Steven King be read in the future? How about Danielle Steele? Or Hemingway? Does anybody under 40 even know who Theodore Dreiser was?

Finally, which of these is a writer and which is not: A blogger who writes nearly every day, with insight, wit, honesty; using effective communication skills to touch others around the world or: a MFA who pursues his muse for years in cafés and seminars, writing grant applications, espousing on his passion, yet giving little of substance to the world, and what little is delivered is academic and pretentious? (If you want to read some really scary bad writing, Google "creative writing blogs".)

By Professor Batty



3 Comments:

Blogger Gary said...

If everyone in the whole world has a blog, are we all writers? What if you do both? And video? And performance art. And drawing and sculpture and design- both graphic and web?

That's a really good question, and I suspect the answer depends on the ego of the individual. In purely rational terms, anyone who writes is a writer, same way anybody who gets on a bike is a cyclist. But when you start talking about answers to the "what do you do?" question... I used to be an amateur musician but I'd never have dreamt of saying "journalist and musician" when asked "what do you do?" - I'd say I'm a magazine journo, because that's what I make my living doing. I've written a bunch of books, but I don't call myself an author: I'm a magazine journalist (the exception: my CV. You have to bum yourself up in those). Same way if I worked in ASDA stacking shelves and wrote the Great British Novel in the evenings, I'd tell people I stacked shelves in asda.

It's not a perfect answer I know, but I do find the old pro/semi-pro/amateur definitions work best. So if you take pics for cash by day and blog by night, you're a photographer "but what I really enjoy doing is blogging". Otherwise it gets silly: if you run a couple of google ads for beer money on a blog, are you in media sales? Unfortunately I suspect a few people might say "yes!" for dinner party kudos :)

There are few artists who have stood the test of time that don't have at least a grudging universal acceptance of their work or, conversely, have gone through cycles of acceptance.

Yeah, but the twin distortions of recency and herd mentality play their part in that. For example, OK Computer is an OK album, but it regularly appears in the top 10 albums of *all time* lists. I'm a huge radiohead fan but I can think of loads of (older) albums that are much, much better. Some stuff passes the test of time through repetition, too, so I know Citizen Kane is the greatest movie ever made, but I've never seen it. Sight and Sound (I think) made the judgement 20-odd years ago, and it's become accepted wisdom.


Blogger Professor Batty said...

...it seems that a continuum might be a better model for these categories. There would be a very long 'tail' on a graph that represented 'writers' going from amateur bloggers, to occasional freelancers, to regular columnists, etc., and parallel to this (and overlapping it) would be novelists, playwrights, and biographers. It does get kind of arbitrary, I think your point about ego is an accurate description of the situation. The rise of 'user generated content' on the internet, however, has blurred the old definitions somewhat.


Blogger Gary said...

One of my favourite descriptions of "user generated content" is "unpaid freelances" :)

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