Oscar Wilde, in his famous preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray begins, “The artist is the creator of beautiful things.” But I’ve been struggling to understand what he means by that.
Do all artists create beauty? Are all of those who create beauty artists?
E. L. James recently published another book in the Fifty Shades of Grey series, merely titled Grey—the story as told by Christian Grey himself, and not through Anastasia’s eyes. According to the Los Angeles Times, following the first four days after its release, Grey had already sold 1.1 million copies, so her publisher printed a few million more.
Yet we cannot attribute James’ success to a particular artistry or cleverness with words. She appeals to the baser desires of the public, and they snap at the bait. Grey is a butchery of the English literary arts, but it sells copies.
Meanwhile the rest of the writers struggle to chain three words together in the hopes that they might find something beautiful, that their words resonate deeply from the heart. And in the rare event that beauty occurs and blooms like a violet in a pit of mud, it falls unnoticed by the wayside.
I’m not saying that you can’t find good writing on the New York Times bestseller list. I’m just saying you’ll have to look very hard.
Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love commented in a TED talk on questions she’d been asked by fans as to what she was going to do now that she’d met with some success in her creative endeavors. In her talk, which is well worth listening to, she explains a fear that so many writers and creative people have—that either the best of their art is behind them or that they will never reach their full potential.
The pressure to improve, the burden of producing something marketable—these things hold back the artist like a bit restrains a horse. Try to write something beautiful and the dining room table goes empty while estimated retail value determines the speed, direction, and content of dime novels. No money, no bread. But if there isn’t a dollar in art, where does the industry fall? Places like Christian Grey’s apartment, I would assume.
So is there hope for the modern publishing industry? When will excellence win out?
Honestly, I don’t know, but we as both readers and writers have a duty to pursue the unmarketable art. Prose that speaks from the depths of the soul. Quality; not light reads. The involved reading projects, the memoirs and novels and elaborate space operas that maybe no one will ever pick up other than the writer’s girlfriend and his parents.
Gilbert suggests that we channel a creative genius greater than ourselves, and Wilde remarks, “It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.” Bare your souls, artists, and pen not the shallower mass-produced stock. Instead weave your own story on the page, heeding not the agents and presses and houses and focus groups that expect the same plot canned and recanned in shiny packaging. Dare to write selfishly, for the satisfaction of the artist and not the critic. Slave away years on a single sentence to make it perfect or jot down a novel and keep it that way.
But don’t ever feel that you have to write to please the people. It couldn’t matter less whether they get the bigger picture or not: popularity isn’t the goal. Don’t mimic E. L. James to collect Twitter followers.
You are a writer and an artist, and your job is to make something beautiful.
G.N. Boorse is a writer and blogger currently living in the central part of New Jersey. He recently published his first book, Don’t Touch the Glass, on March 3, 2015. Other works of his have been featured in numerous places online. You can learn more about the author at his website asotherswere.me.