Writing as Art

During my final semester of college, I’m taking a class called “Vision, Voice, and Practice.” The painting and poetry professors have teamed up to teach it, and it’s offered for either upper division Art or English credit. That’s where the “Vision” (art) and “Voice” (writing) parts come from.

The class has afforded me a wonderful opportunity to study that strange being known as the Art Major. I’ve learned that  these beings are most active at night, understand the term “Class starts at 8:00am” very loosely, and like to talk about symbolism. They’re also deep thinkers, insightful, and caring.

Being in a class with art majors has given me a glimpse into the art world—a world where trinkets arranged in boxes help people think about exploration, and a pile of jumbled words  produces a 3D object.

in-class text coll. treeBeing part of this community has made me think differently about my writing.

In my mind, I’ve always categorized “skill” into three sections: skill, craft, and art. The difference between these three had something to do with practicality and objective beauty. I might be skilled at washing dishes, but the activity isn’t beautiful, and is definitely not an art form.

Craft got a little closer to art, but it was still too practical. The glass-blower creates beautiful bowls that hold liquid, and the wood worker creates sleek tables, chairs, and surfboards. But these things were still practical—they were working pieces, not art pieces.

Art, though—art was the shimmering pinnacle of creativity and beauty. It wasn’t supposed to be practical. It was the standard of perfection that practical people looked to and dreamed of reaching.

I had always thought of writing as part of the craft category. It can be measured definitively by a set of rules and requirements (grammar and style) and becomes better with practice. It’s used practically: to record the minutes of a meeting, persuade the public to vote for a new tax, or warn drivers about the deer that might cross the road. Therefore, writing didn’t qualify as art.

My definitions were wrong.

I won’t attempt to give a definitive, holistic definition of “Art” in this post. That’s book and dissertation material. But I will say that any good definition of Art will not demand physical beauty, and will not exclude practicality.

One of the main purposes of Art is to make us think—to challenge our pre-conceived ideas and broaden our perspectives. Sculptors use clay and photographers use printed images, but they both use them as mediums to convey an idea, or even to produce a practical object.

Writers use words to the same end.

Language as a medium doesn’t depend merely on definitions to convey meaning. It also uses style, sound, restriction, and even visual presentation—the same criteria we use to evaluate art.

By the same token, Art doesn’t exist apart from the practical concepts and struggles of humanity. Artists are trying to work out answers to these questions through their work. There is no such thing as meaningless art, (though some have tried). The end result always includes an idea, a concept.

secret garden, 2The other essential part of Art is active creativity. A rose is beautiful, even “sublime,” but it is not human art. This is where “Practice” comes into the class title. We are actively practicing our disciplines, not floating around in the philosophy of Formland, but grounded in the work we make. Our assignments are both individual and collaborative, but in each one, we’re creating something.

Through Practicing the collaboration of Vision and Voice, I have learned to not limit my own work, but to see it as Art.

All the pictures above are projects done in this class. If you’re interested, you can check out the class blog here for more of them.

Meta-Thoughts for Forum Blogging

It might have slipped your notice, but the Evangelical Outpost found six Torrey Honors students who were keen on writing, tsk-tsked at our lonely Blogspots and well-hidden journals, and invited us into the open, the fray of forum blogging. Instead of constantly writing by ourselves (and mostly, for ourselves), the forum-structure offers a chance to refine our blog posts with dialogue. The major premise of EO content isn’t a particular theme or audience; it’s inter-editorial feedback. So, I won’t say they let us go completely unscathed, not with the weekly grooming and shearing our pieces get. We subscribe to the blog-dialogue approach, where every post is part of a larger conversation.

Sometimes, Facebook feed and daily blog skimming unearths posts which are actually aspiring to be essays—pieces that stand-alone on internal consistency and supported argument. Timothy Bartel recommends an excellent set of questions for what qualifies as a good ‘essay-post.’ But that’s not the only way to read or write. In fact, it’s rare in the blogging world. Several of us are looking into what we do with those messier, less-polished posts that don’t deserve the wide, public audience an essay would.  Rebecca Card-Hyatt suggests we are writing for a difference audience: peers, friends and like-minds.

The future for blog-dialogue offers several promising effects:

 

Relevance / ‘In Real Time’  

 Write a review of a presidential debate. Then, refine it for a month until it qualifies as an essay. There’s too much distance. While the written response might be insightful, interest in the instigating event has already peaked and disappeared. Our friends have already watched, opined about and moved beyond the following four debates. Essays aren’t naturally conducive to interacting with fast-paced culture. One alternative is to devote all blog posts to what’s transcendent, limiting ourselves to only abstract ideas and excluding current events. That’s a limiting alternative, however. range of interests, though. For me, writing in conversation with like-minds runs on a spectrum of interests, including everything from the ordinary to the sublime. All due respect to the ordinary, writing quickly is the way to keep pace with up-to-date topics.

 

More critical thinking, not less

Real conversations crumble under the siege of poor speech and lazy thinking. The challenge of having real forward movement required you to move forward at a shared pace, going step by step, thought by thought. Simultaneously, the challenge of communicating to someone else requires you to think through old thoughts in new ways and invent an apt expression for them. The blogger keen for listeners and responses wants the same things as a normal conversationalist, simultaneously aware that blogging is susceptible to sloppiness of thought and delivery but, placed in a dialogue atmosphere, might become an opportunity working out real communication. Each post functions like a few statements, building on previous thoughts and anticipating nearby implications. The guidelines and challenges of an ordinary conversation shape limits for the writer which naturally improve her work.

 

Layers of timbre

I encounter a lot of over-assertiveness in individual blogs. The writers are distinctly aware that, aside from their font and background color choice, confidence is their only platform. But too often, the anxiety of being their own endorsement makes their tone more obnoxious than persuasive. The blog-dialogue distributes the weight of authority between all the participants, giving everyone a chance to risk sharing their idea without fearing the ‘you-don’t-sound-expert-enough’ response. It allows different timbres to color the general tone: curiosity, concord, humility, uncertainty, etc. Instead of being delivered in one tone bent on asserting the speaker’s authority, the blog-dialogue has a layered tonal atmosphere that illumines the topic directly, in addition to highlighting the speaker.  The wider range of writers increases the range of readers.  The entire team of writers draws an audience of diverse shape, eliciting fresh density to the tone of the pieces. As a result, the audience watches how their attention actually contributing to the conversation, validating their input and watering down the emphasis on who is following, sharing or tweeting whom.

 

Recurrences

Images seeped with memories. Rock-bottom questions. Words with long histories. Inside jokes. Recurrences are facilitators of our best conversations. They are reminders of how common understanding between people makes listening worthwhile. They function as comfortable resting points during strong disagreement. Ultimately, they support our weird questions and crazy assertions with credible backstory. Spouting out statement after statement like meteors that light up and then die keeps a writer on a surface his audience can instantly access. Without backstory with his audience, he won’t reach the level of discourse where his thoughts begin to build new ideas on familiar concepts.

The outworking of blog-dialogue continues to evolve. Some actually address their posts to their intended reader, as though writing a letter. Others have a heyday with embedded links, drawing lines out to as many available perspectives as possible. At the Evangelical Outpost, there’s always a dialogue behind the scenes in the editorial process. The future of the approach doesn’t require commitment to any one tactic. Blog-dialogue will and continues to occur wherever online publication multiplies one thought into several ideas, one question into network of thought-projects, and one person into a community.

How I Was Objectified and Loved It

I did something bad yesterday. If you saw that girl cracking open John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead at Barnes and Noble, careful not to open it too wide (breaking the spine would have meant buying it) that was me. A friend recommended “Upon this Rock,” the first essay in the collection, and I had neither the patience to wait for its library return nor the funds to buy it. So, I eased it open in the store, stuffed the words into my brain, placed the physical book back on the shelf (unharmed) and left, carrying the ideas with me.  Continue reading How I Was Objectified and Loved It

There is Nothing, Son, Under the Gnu: Or, Originality is Overrated

If you want to make a name for yourself, a good way to start is to attack something people believe without question. The broad-minded will hear you, the doctrinaire will attack you, and everybody else will check you out just to learn why everyone is so excited. “Blind” faith can be a sort of scurvy of the mind, so it is right to disturb the unopposed from time to time. On the whole, though, originality is overrated. Continue reading There is Nothing, Son, Under the Gnu: Or, Originality is Overrated

On Overcoming Writer’s Block

After staring idly at the white screen for a few moments, your brows furrow. You type out a sentence. It is terrible; you must erase it. You notice your palms have begun to moisten and your intestines are all in knots. Disconcertingly, this process repeats itself until the worst has happened. You have opened all the drawers of your mind only to find you have nothing to say. Continue reading On Overcoming Writer’s Block