Did you know this is my forty-second entry on this journal (not including link posts)? I feel like I ought to write something about life, the universe, and everything, just in case 42 happens to mean the entry number of Melissa Walshe’s livejournal. But since I don’t actually know the answers and also would not like to accidentally create a cult around a blog entry written in a lazy state of mind while I’m avoiding writing a boring paper, I will write about art instead, because it’s been on my mind.
I went up to Maine for a few days over spring break (hence the lack of posts for a week), and while I was there, Sister Sam and I made a late night movie run to pick up a copy Twilight, which Mom was inexcusably lacking in her collection of guilty pleasure films. We got to talking, of course, as intelligent individuals who are highly skilled in the art of self-reflection, about what made the series so enjoyably addictive and why watching it should make us feel that we are indulging a guilty pleasure.
I don’t really have an answer for those questions, because they spring from a consistent problem I have with standards in art, and more specifically, standards in storytelling arts, because those are the ones I love most. (If you ask Andy Warhol and his art-children, this argument is old and happens across the various media, but since I’m a word person, I’m talking about story-art.)
So here’s my problem: What make Blindness more worthy of the acclaim of art critics than Twilight? I’m not posing this question in defense of Stephanie Meyer’s prose skills or as an attack on Jose Saramago’s relentlessly dark portrait of humanity (or even his lack of readable punctuation, which makes me crazy). I’m posing it as a human being who has far more interested in reading Twilight because it doesn’t leave me depressed and miserable and as a writer who wants people to walk away from one of my books refreshed and excited.
And maybe Twilight is not the best quality example of books that leave one feeling “refreshed,” dealing with the darkness of vampires and werewolves as it does, but it is still (at it’s heart) a fluffy, feel-good, love story. Blindness is more of a slimy, feel-horrific, love/hate story. Yet the slimy, feel-horrific stories will inevitably get handed Nobel prizes and general critical acclaim while the fluffy, feel-good stories get lots of money and movie deals, accompanied by a disdainful nose-wrinkling of anyone who claims to have “good taste.”
Again, I’m not trying to say that we should start judging excellent writing like Blindness as not great. I think one important function of art is to act as a mirror to reflect the myriad potential of human beings to behave abominably, helping us to consider our actions and change them. Art is also a way to experience emotions that are different or more powerful than our own, and I believe its value is as much in its ability to lift us up as to depress us down.
I don’t know about you, but it’s not everyday that I get to feel the buoyancy of star-crossed love triumphant, even if that emotion is mediated by mediocre prose and an admittedly silly premise. So tell me (and I do mean that literally, I’m interested in hearing people’s thoughts on this), why is the art of Saramago more “important” than the art of Meyer?
For those of you who don’t know me or my “artistic” leanings very well, I write (when I can scrape together the time) science fiction and fantasy, generally working from a premise where characters are dealing with situations that they would have thought impossible, like traveling to alternate universes or accidentally crossing the boundary into Fairy. Or discovering that there’s a family of really cute, ethical vampires at their new school…
Writing is my retirement plan when I get too burned out to deal with education any more : ), so this question of what makes art matter isn’t really a hypothetical one for me. It’s me wondering if it’s possible to write what I love to write without being made to feel like a commercial, talentless sell-out if I ever actually start making money at it.
But anyway…enough daydreaming about the art angst of my non-existent life of fame and fortune. This paper on second language acquisition is not going to write itself.