Artist as crucible

July 1, 2007

Recently, I started reading 3 books, none of which I finished.  One book had unconvincing characters. Another’s plot didn’t interest me, and in the third I sensed an undercurrent of unprocessed anger.

Not only does an author have to grab me with good writing, but I have to care almost immediately what happens to the characters. 
And even when these two things happen, above all, I need to trust the author.

Why, you might think, does a reader have to trust an author?  Well, because I start out on a journey with him or with her that might last for several hundered pages and a number of weeks.  Too many times I have stayed with an exceedingly well written book to be let down by a negative ending.  For example, when a character struggles with misfortune and nearly triumphs, then at the end gets slapped down anyway, what message does that give the reader about life?  I want the author to grapple with difficulty, evil, illness and death, but I read in order to learn how to deal with these better, not to be told that life is basically meaningless so why bother trying.

An artist/author is free to chronicle his/her pain. But untransformed pain is therapy, not art. I don’t have to read it or hang it on my walls.

An artist can be a crucible for the transformation of raw materials like pain and anger. Then art has a healing function instead of  just a reflecting one. Instead of underlining  how awful the society is, it says, ‘We’re all dealing with these kinds of difficult situations, here is meaning and inspiration for when things get tough’.   

I said as much in a lecture recently and  someone complained that I was defining what art should and should not be. She said that art should be totally free and that disturbing works also have their function.  I agree certain works raise consciousness. But those are usually motivated by a transformative goal.
Art as transformation is a path I choose for myself, no one else. I discuss the merits of it so that others can think about it as well. And I think that art as a disturbing provocative act actually is part of the old artist archetype and even now is giving way to new, more reconciliatory forms of art. 

2 Responses to “Artist as crucible”

  1. madsilence Says:

    Hello, Art Calling. Interesting post & blog. You touch on a variety of fascinating topics. Concerning book reading, I no longer have time to devote to books that don’t “grab me” after the first 50 pages. A writer, indeed any creative agent placing his or her work in front of the public, has the ethical responsibility to ensure they have something useful to say. Even bloggers must “improve upon the silence.” None of us are “totally free.” Say rather we have “total responsibility” for our actions (a frightening thought!). I’ve recently become interested in the healing power of art. Art is used as a therapeutic tool in many venues: health, mental health, domestic violence, child abuse, etc. I look forward to reading more. MadSilence http://madsilence.wordpress.com/

  2. szoutewelle Says:

    Hi MadSilence, thanks for your comment and through that letting me know about your blog. We are dealing with some of the same issues. For too long it was considered taboo to link the words ‘artist’ and ‘responsibility’. I’m glad there are others willing to risk it. It is good to know you are out there. My website has several interesting links to art/healing sites: http://www.artwell.nl


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