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Jul 2, 2010

Art vs Capitalism

In the comments of my last post, "You're going to be eaten by hyenas," my friend Ban remarked, "When someone rejects something you've created it's in essence a rejection of one's inner self. You are that book - you are those characters - they live in your head. When someone says they don't like - they ARE in fact saying they don't like a part of you - however small or big that part my be."

Allow me to repsond.

No. They aren't. It just feels as though they are. Which was my point.

Seriously, my fellow writers, think about it.

I sent out a query letter. It was 179 words. Hey, sure, I put a lot of thought into those 179 words. An amazing amount of thought. I did research on query letters, read other query letters, read agent blogs, even parted with cold, hard cash to learn to polish those 179 words. And yes, it sucked rocks that those 179 words were still not good enough to entice even a request for a partial. It means I have more work to do. Damn.

But do those 179 words in any way summarize the contents and value of my inner soul?

Uh, let's hope not. It would be one sorry-ass inner soul that could be shoved into 179 words of what is, in essence, an advertisement. That's all a query letter is really, a specific kind of ad.

We live in a global, industrial, capitalist society, where art is a commodity. You aren't sharing your deepest self with another human being when you send you mss into an agent or an editor, you're peddling a commodity to a middle-man, who has to sell it in turn to someone else. THIS FACT MAKES THE BRAINS OF ARTISTS IMPLODE.

It's wrong. It's evil. It's a betrayal of everything art has meant to our species for the past ten thousand years.

I believe we did evolve the arts as part of our unique human way of sharing our inner sense of self. A species could have sociality without art. Termites manage it. (See my post on why ants don't have art.) Termites don't have selfhood, either, so although they have sociality -- eusociality, in fact, which may arguably be superior-- they don't have community. To have a community, you need to have individuality first, because community is what binds individuals together. I don't think you can be human without art.

If we evolved art to bind us into small, hunter-gather communities, then everything about how art works today in a capitalist society necessarily feels wrong. That's why there's a disconnect between the artist and the society in which we are now making art. Rejected query letters are just the start of an artist's agony. What about the Beta readers who say they just don't "connect" with your characters? What about the publishers who turn down your agent? What about the reviewers? Oh, god, the reviewers. A reviewer wrote, about the first book I ever published, that it made her LAUGH... not because it was that good but because it was that BAD. OH GOD PEOPLE ARE LAUGHING AT ME IN PUBLIC. Let me die now, please. Please?

Ahem. The point is, things just get worse after you are published, not better. Now you are being judged on the fruit of your soul, you feel naked in front of a million judges, and no matter how many people like your book, someone will hate it. That's the law of large numbers.

There's a good side to the law of large numbers. Now matter how quirky your story is, it's possible there is an audience out there who can connect with your characters. If you were a hunter-gatherer in a tribe of a 150 people, you were pretty much stuck with whatever art forms everyone else had already agreed upon. If you didn't like their art, or if they didn't like yours.... see my post below about the care and feeding of hyenas.

Now even weirdo freaks such as yours truly have a shot at touching the hearts of like-minded freaks. Woohoo! Unfortunately, to find the community of brilliant souls who will at last appreciate my greatness, I have to risk repeated rejection from a lot of otherwise decent human beings who just aren't that into me. The healthy thing would be to shrug off the people who say, "No, thanks, not my cuppa," and just focus on the kindred souls. The healthy thing would be to view art as a business, not as an existential battle. The healthy thing would be to treat rejection as a part of the profession, and just move on without obsessing over it day and night, night and day, years on end.

And, by the way, Clueless Reviewer, of course you laughed, that scene was SUPPOSED to be funny!


Ban said...

Aha - "It would be one sorry-ass inner soul that could be shoved into 179 words" that is too true. And to be honest, I wasn't considering the inquery letter.(sorry) I was thinking more along the lines of the beta reader/reviewer.
I can see your point clearly - esp. for those who create art for the purpose of making money or pleasing others. And let's tell the truth, who wouldn't want to get paid or appreciated for what they create. One of the main reasons to make art is to share ...
There are those who create for themselves though - because putting pen to paper is something they MUST do whether someone else reads their words or not. For them art is who they are as much as their skin color, sex or beliefs.
Thanks for this post - it has given my brain lovely food for thought :)

Tara Maya said...

I think this post is relevant.

"I first asked how many of the people in attendance were unpublished. A vast majority raised their hands. I looked at them very seriously and said, 'Enjoy it. This is a very special time in your career.'"

The agent absolutely has a point. Since I've been published, the "creative" part of my work has become harder, less free, less fun. And even my family pressures me to write what they know can be published and earn $$$. Whereas I want to write the stories close to my heart, even though I often despair if anyone wants to read those.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

This is an incredible post. You've touched on things that completely make sense and explain why I feel the way I do. Now that I'm about to throw my work out there - SELF-published work, no less, I know there's going to be times that I feel like I did something incredibly stupid. I would feel like that if I traditionally published, too, because no matter how I share my work, 100% of the people who read it are not going to like it or love it or fawn over like I secretly wish they would. Because what writer doesn't? I like to stand up and pretend I don't care - I'm creating art for art's sake, but that's a bunch of bull, and I know it. I AM creating art for art's sake, but like Ban says up above, one of the main reasons to make art is to share, and to feel validated in return.

What an insane business we're in.