Posted on 34 Comments

While Hacking at a Log

I wonder…

What is more important to most readers of literature…

Just the words as they are written?

Or the why the words were written – the author’s motivation?

Or the how the words were written – the author’s background?

When reading a thesis that may influence one’s medical or legal decisions, knowing that the author has the requisite knowledge and training to write with such influencing authority – the why and how of the words – probably should be important.

However, when it comes to literature – does it really matter what schools the author attended, or how well-read an author is?

Or would most readers regard a work of literature by a less-than educated or less-than well-read author similar to someone hacking in mad rage at a log with an ax and when she comes to her senses she discovers that she had, in her blind passion, formed a beautiful wooden sculpture*?

Would she have created art?

Should she then be considered an artist?

I wonder…


*This is far from an original thought of mine but unfortunately I cannot find the original quote to give proper credit. If you know, please comment.


34 thoughts on “While Hacking at a Log

    1. Thank you, Angeline. I’m happy you think so.

  1. I don’t care who you are, where you come from, or what you “know” if the words, work, creation of any kind really, moves me…then it moves me. I don’t care about the writer personally speaking, when I am engaged in the act of regarding something, if its good then the artist themselves is invisible to me. thought provoking for sure…thanks. 🙂 HA!

    1. Beautifully said, HA!. I would like to think I share those same sentiments; however, I’m not sure if I’ve ever read a work of literature where, if I didn’t already know, I didn’t first seek out at least some understanding of who the author is/was… mostly was since I rarely venture into contemporary work.

      1. I practice ignorance in art until I fall in love then I want to know more…but I hear you completely. There have been times that I fell in love with the art…then learned about the creator and fell out of love…ouch! it was heartbreaking, honestly. 🙂

        1. True that – Knut Hamson comes immediately to mind.

          1. yeah I have a few names on the tip of my tongue as well and they range lots of “art” writers, music, painters, actors…etc.. As a performance artist myself…I get the fish bowl feeling but then again I have a really nice vibe going in my bowl…so it’s fine to stop on by and see the dirty dishes. I loved the question and it made me think, thanks for that, and the conversation. 🙂

  2. Words are passion in thoughts.

  3. This is an instance where I’d have to say (cliche and unoriginal as it may be) that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And accidental art needs no pedigree.

  4. These are really intriguing questions, Kurt. I have no answers, but you’ve got me thinking. Were you hacking madly at wood when you wrote this? 🙂

    1. If the wood is a metaphor for the screen and the ax the keyboard, then yes, I, a mad hack of writer, was. 🙂

      1. I didn’t mean to imply you aren’t well-read, just that a piece of art came forth. : )

        1. Ha ha… no implications felt. Just having fun in my response. 🙂

  5. My first thought was that it doesn’t matter who the writer is — if the words as written move me, that’s all that counts. But the more I think about it, I realize I can sometimes understand better what those words mean if I know more about where the writer is coming from. What culture, what historical time, what position / class does the writer have in society, what race, gender, religion, etc. So often, fictional stories are in response to social or political issues as they affect personal lives, or if not consciously in response to them, still reflecting them. And I’d guess that people with less formal education would write from a different stance than those with more formal education. If I know where they’re writing from, I might grasp more of their references, their implications.

    1. Yes, Joy. You’ve captured much of my thinking as to why it is so hard for me not to first seek out more about an author prior to reading.

  6. Art is a form of communication. Therefore, at best, only half of it is in the hands of the artist.The other half has to be how it resonates in the appreciator. Criticism, often academic, falls in the purview of ‘the establishment’ and is inherently bound to the aesthetics of that which has come before. Popular acceptance often mirrors the crowd’s thirst for spectacle over nuance–amplifying all forms of ugliness.
    Into this mix, the best an artist can do is to create, true to heart, following that blend of soul and craft that leads home.

    1. Intriguing, avwalters. But I wonder when deciding whether or not to read an unknown book of literature written by an unknown author what process does one go through to make one’s decision. How does all what you’ve beautifully expressed come into play at this point?

      1. Ah, but that’s not about writing. It’s about marketing. I think I’m a good writer. My reviews on Amazon support that–and I try to write, true to myself. But I’m a terrible marketer. My message only gets out to very few. When a reader approaches an unknown book by an unknown author–the blurb, the reviews, the cover, that’s what attracts.Even more, if someone they know recommends it–that’s what attracts. No matter how wonderful by book may be, or not, the reader won’t know until they sit down and spend time with it. While I’m sure I have many things that I could/should do to “manage” my image, I surely hope that none of those things will change who I am, and what I bring to the table in my writing.

        1. Yes, you’re right, of course. And then, when deciding whether to read or not, in addition to the marketing – or lack thereof – it must also be about an author’s background and how well aligned it is with the potential reader’s tastes and other sociological sensibilities and sensitivities, i.e., their stereotypes and perceptions.

          1. Unless, you manage to write in such a way as to open minds….

          2. Indeed… we’re kind of going in circles here. 🙂

          3. I wanted to jump up and say I pick books on the feeling I get when I look at them and flip thru them and read a random page and see the art jacket artwork…so I don’t really go for a name until I have a reason too, and then it would take me several books that made me feel and think to even want to learn anything about the artist…but I am a self educated, self directed person anyway…otherwise it’s what I am drawn too and much of that can be related to marketing and things that stuff the artist,(knowing as an artist myself) don’t always “create” anyway. Love this thread thank you! I’m doing artwork for an writer now…translating words into an image that captures people and brings them in is a HUGE part of market share and sales and still has almost nothing to do with the original creator….on an educated meandering of thought to justify/quantify/rationalize any
            experience, before I have it?…I have no idea. 🙂 but then again I jumped into a round robin…huh? lol

  7. I dunno, even in medical and legal writing, the background doesn’t always carry the weight of the writing. A doctor of renown who’s been practicing medicine for decades can be blind to new and improved medical procedures and use their influence to bring down a “new” doctor fresh out of medical school who’s discovered a bigger, better, less expensive way to cure cancer (or something). So I tend to judge a writing based on the quality of the text, then the validity of the text — it’s truthfulness and believablity — then on who the author is and what their status, background, etc… might be.

    Someone once asked me “Do you know what they call someone who cheated their way through medical school without getting caught?”

    Me: “Nope.”


    1. 🙂 Yes, but when it comes to literature, when choosing to read an unknown book written by an unknown author, how is that choice made? For me, rarely have I read a book without at least knowing a little something about the author.

      1. I judge a book by its cover… or the name… or the bit on the back. Other than that, I go in blind. Most of the time, unless it’s a series, I don’t even know *who* I’m reading.

        1. I admire that greatly.

  8. I think it’s a combination of talent and skill. Forming a beautiful sculpture from hacking at a log is just a fluke. If she hacks at a log a second time, will she produce another work of art? If yes, then she really has the talent. If no, then she’s something like a one-hit wonder. One of my favorite movies is Amadeus, and the scene I liked best is when Salieri asked God why Mozart could compose such beautiful music when he was immature, unncouth etc. My point is, some people just have it, and with passion and practice they perfect it. Others may want it and invest time and money on it, but it will always be an elusive dream.

    1. Yes, Therese. Beautifully said. Thank you for sharing that.

  9. Interesting muse. I haven’t buried my head in much literature of late. Referring to the voracious drug-fuelled reading binges of my youth, I would have to say that gritty visceral expression is key regardless of how well educated the author is. Like I have no qualms reading on a scientific authority as long as they are detailing their experiences from out in the field and connect a very human struggle with the pursuit of truth or knowledge.

  10. I generally don’t care about the author’s background if I like their work. With that being said, I’ve been researching some of my favorite authors for a blog series that I’ve been posting. I started with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and found many interesting facets of his personal life that contributed to his writing. For instance, he was a physician like Dr. Watson and shared a similar background. This could be the impetus for him telling many stories from the doctor’s perspective. It’s interesting to me, but not essential.

  11. Thought provoking article. Art is always appreciated whether created accidentally or with thoughtfulness.

  12. Such questions in a way lead to the “outsider art” movement. A homeless man painting on a pizza box, a person from inside a mental ward, or who is developmentally disabled etc. etc. How much does it matter if one knows who painted the pizza box? Would it make a difference if you knew the person had a degree in “conceptual art”?

    People will always have a drive for context, whether the results of that drive are relevant or irrelevant. And one person’s relevance is another person fluffy factoid. A first-person story about a gay man with AIDS in the 80’s written by straight man or woman important context? For some yes, others no. Been in so many workshop debates about whether a man / woman can truly create a female / male character because the author cannot truly see the world through the other’s eyes. Or add any of the other zillion binary (or more) groups we generalize people into.

    And how many times I have heard, “well, you have to understand the culture in which this author was raised in….” Can one look past a pro-slavery perspective if the author grew up in a pro-slavery culture? On and on and on.

    1. Powerful points, ET – many of which led me to the initial posting. As for your “outsider art” movement… Behold the Basquiats. Behold the Banksies. Thank you for sharing your insight.

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