Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Writers, artists and death

Writers and artists often work against death and can even sometimes be tricked by so-called fate and death from the rewards of their own labour. They can become so obsessed with death that it permeates every work they create and can cloud their interaction with the rest of the living, tainting their words with bitterness and resentment.

But death's impact on the writer and artist generally isn't what we tend to make it out as. So what's going on?

Writers and artists work to express their life and opinions before death takes the ability to do so from them. They sometimes feel the desperate urge to express themselves and pass on their knowledge because of a lack of children or family to impact. Sometimes they feel the need to express themselves in such formats as they aren't so good at expressing themselves in others. And sometimes it is just ego pushing them to express their view of the world in a manner said to be immortal. The most laughable thing about all this is that most of what is written or created is lost or reduced in impact not long after its creation and definitely so after the writer or artist has died.

So why is there still an urge in writers and artists to 'immortalise' our views of the world and our existence through writing and art? Probably because there is a little myth or hope, whatever you'd like to call it, that the struggling and unappreciated artist or writer will one day and be seen as a genius their toils vindicated. Much good it will do any of the writers or artists because they'll be dead and well, I'm a believer in there being nothing after that. Even if there was, you're unlikely to be around to enjoy the rewards or even know that such a thing has happened. Only if you became a ghost, ghoul or zombie would you have a chance but to me that is another version of hell and I'd be far more concerned with stopping such an existence than seeing my life's works lauded.

Just because a few masters of the art and writing world went unacknowledged or under-worshiped in their time doesn't mean that every writer or artist is worth so much more than they are. Nor their creations. Sure, there are plenty of under-appreciated artists and writers in the world of multi-media, mass sales, technological progress and the global word - in fact most are - but that doesn't mean that every under-appreciated artist or writer is a master.

Under-appreciated artists and writers = Masters

Masters = Under-appreciated artists and writers

The equation doesn't work no matter how you look at it.

In truth only a few artists and writers worth their salt have been under-appreciated in their times and mostly because they were outcasts of some sort or another and so unsocial or not to be socialised with. Being cut from cultural and social contacts had a far greater impact in a world without multi-media than it does in one with it. Nowadays, if you have a stigmatised mental illness, an unsightly growth, a generally unlikable or unacceptable viewpoint or even a bad attitude you can still get out there and market in one way or another. Without multi-media most of these people would have been cut off from the greater social connections and so wouldn't gain the great market that they'd like. While most people say they like a quirky artist but most also only like them from a distance and don't want to deal with the realities. Multi-media allows and creates that distance which makes it work for the writer or artist as well as the audience. With everyone fairly comfortable in their accessibility and inaccessibility levels there isn't much standing in the way of a quirky artist or writing achieving fame and fortune or any type.

But gaining fame and fortune after death has happened often enough with the masters of the past that the current set of writers and artists still live in hope (sometimes turning into virulent anger) that their works will achieve such for them even when they fail to do so now. There are some who say that only the true masters will ever be properly appreciated after death. But it wasn't their death that brought about fame. It was the posthumous discovery of their work and the presentation of their work by another that did the trick. And likely that someone had connections and wasn't bad at sales. Otherwise, the works would still be undiscovered. Death in this case is a facilitator to gaining an unlikely audience and sales manager. It isn't the death of the artists that is needed though. Just go search for an unlikely audience or sales manager rather than taking a knife to your wrists.

It can be said that most well-known to famous artists and writers do get an increase in sales immediately after death but that spike in consumption and popularity does not last long. Not unless you truly are worth your place in history and pop-culture. For writers of late you're talking an Isaac Asimov or Douglas Adams level of impact. Big, in other words. Creators of genre and genre trends, not just good writers or published writers. Otherwise, your spike in sales and fame will drop away within weeks (if your lucky) and you and your works will proceed to fall into relative obscurity - a fond memory for some, a book on the shelf for others or a painting above the mantelpiece that will stay there for the next forty years and then passed on to whomever will have it next.

Are you suddenly feeling sad?

Don't be. The people you want to have the greatest impact upon, after all, are the ones most likely to keep copies of your works and forever say "I knew so and so" or "There was a writer in the family and s/he wrote ...". Your friends and family are truly the ones you want to appreciate your works the most, the ones you truly want to be remembered by forever. And they are the ones most likely to do so.

They say that creating art and writing is like birthing a child. Well, the physical pain is less and the mental strain can be shorter per book or artwork but if you make a career out of it do expect your brain to be almost permanently muddled and your time sucked away by a black hole you never thought existed before but are now sure resides somewhere between your eyes and your writing material. You can also expect to lose social contacts, become mostly a house or workshop bound person meeting crazy and constant deadlines while waiting on those dreaded report cards that tell you if your baby is genius or just plain dumb. Oh, and don't forget the expenditure is high and the rewards low. Most of the time you won't be recognised for your work at all and in fact the vast majority or us will produce what others will call "average". Welcome to motherhood.

So if the art and writing created is a child and you its mother then you want those closest to you in the real world, not fantasy land, to accept and love your work. You want them to be proud of knowing you and knowing your work. And in most cases this little dream will come true. This is where most writers and artists will receive their just rewards in the end and it is a comfortable dream indeed. It means for the writer that your works will always have shelves and your words will always be read by those important to you rather than mulched for another person's set of words. It means for an artist that your paintings, sculptures and drawing (etc.) will have homes and been seen and appreciated rather than gathering dust in an attic or destroyed for more room.

One day your friends and family might point to a picture that seems to them like this to us and say "See that person there? S/he wrote that book over there" and point to a shelf with your book sitting on it.

The dream is both great and small but it is a dream achievable by most of us, whether we achieve wider fame or not, before death or after. So you may as well create with a small part of your mind towards those most important to you rather than on that award or giant cheque. Only one or two out of hundreds will receive any given award or cheque while all those hundreds will receive proud acclamations from friends and family. Be happy with what you can receive and don't get too greedy because if you do you'll likely just end up miserable.

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