The Artist As A Coward

I was tagged on Instagram the other day by writer Laura Thompson. A question was making the rounds. She decided to ask me: What is on my night-table?:

[Photo by me, 2018.]

Snapped at 7am, Wednesday morning (it was still a bit dark, despite the bedside light). I had removed the cold medications (hardly thrilling – but I was feeling better), to leave the sort of stuff that is usually there. That night, books: an interesting combination, I grant you – a James Fenimore Cooper (Last of the Mohicans author) bio; The Little Book of Hygge (for the wannabe Dane in all of us); and my Jerusalem Bible (that’s usually there). The iPhone and headset are self-explanatory. And I’ve had that clock radio, well, forever. And my watch and my wallet. My glasses case. Oh, and that baseball bat caught in frame in the corner… I’ve had that since I was ten or so back on Long Island when I imagined I’d be the next Joe Torre. I know, right?πŸ˜‚

That’s just some fun. As you may know, I like also to use Instagram and my blog here to “chat.” It is genuinely difficult, I have learned over the years, to talk with family and friends about my writing-in-progress and my novels: Most of them don’t understand and, frankly, are not all that interested.

But here, on the net, we self-select. You are here because you want to be. A few of you who follow, “like,” and comment occasionally, I know have also written books. Or at least you write a personal blog – reading, fashion, travel, photography, etc. You understand what it is to write for readers. On your own blog chances are you are willing to listen, and occasionally you also offer feedback on other blogs.

I mention that because of this that was pushed at me the other day by someone else I follow on Instagram. I have rarely seen so wrongheaded a take on “criticism.” Worst of all, it comes from a “creator”:

[Screenshot of Instagram.]

My first reaction to seeing that is to observe that a critic is NOT “a censor”; a censor is someone or some entity who has the legal authority to stop me from writing something. Second, a critic is, well, a critic – it is merely someone who “critiques”; it is a plain fact that if we are going “to create” anything for the public, we are going to be critiqued in some form at least privately by everyone who sees it, and some few will go so far as to share those opinions in writing publicly.

I chose not to point any of that out and instead just to scroll by, shaking my head. I did not comment on her “no critics allowed on my blog” stance because I didn’t want to get into a dust up with her over it: she is I believe in her late-40s and is extremely opinionated online, not hesitating to share contentious political views in an often vitriolic manner; and as I recall she has more than once stated that she is attacked on Facebook for her opinions particularly by “guys from high school.” I do not engage on social media about politics with such people; they are not looking for an exchange of views, but merely desire an affirmation of their worldview. (“Right on! I so agree! They are evil!”) Despite all of that, I also do if I may deign to offer a general critique here still respect what I’ve seen of her writings and her art.

Books – obviously my main focus on my blog here – are fundamentally about ideas, including a worldview. As a reader, we buy books, read them, and perhaps we make notes in the margins (“⬅️⬅️⬅️ He believes this?!”), or we underline; or, on a Kindle, we do the e-books’ equivalents. Of course that is for ourselves because it’s impossible to respond to the author about their ideas within the book itself. While a book may “speak” to us, and perhaps even to our heart, reading is “one-way” traffic.

[A box of old photographs from the 1990s. Photo by me, 2018.]

How our world has changed in tech terms in just a few decades. Today we take photos of our night-tables, and put them online and don’t think twice. There was a time almost no one saw our photos – our memories – beyond our family and our friends, and the prints eventually ended up stored in shoeboxes… someday perhaps to be looked at again, as we note, “Oh, my, he’s dead now. And so is she…”

What never changes is living. My tales are, I hope, much like life as always lived: a mix of the not so serious and the serious. Our world is also, as we know, immensely complicated, with our personal lives at times reflecting that complexity.

There are usually no easy answers, so there are moments in my books that may give us pause and should. Below are six excerpts from my 1990s-set novels – which stem from my personal experiences – that I use here as examples. If I am willing “to create” and put scenes such as these in my novels, how spineless (no book pun intended) I would be as an artist if I were afraid to have them appear on my blog here:

[Excerpt from Passports, on Kindle. Photo by me, 2018.]

[Excerpt from Frontiers, on Kindle. Photo by me, 2018.]

[Excerpt from Distances, on Kindle. Photo by me, 2018.]

[Excerpt from Passports, on Kindle. Photo by me, 2018.]

[Excerpt from Frontiers, on Kindle. Photo by me, 2018.]

[Excerpt from Distances, on Kindle. Photo by me, 2018.]

If a reader sees something in one of my novels and wants drop me an email to discuss it further, that’s fine. My email address is in the books as well as in the sidebar on here. I do now and then receive them.

And if a visitor/reader wants to write something below a post in response, that’s fine, too. Indeed THAT is what A BLOG is supposed to have – a commenting feature. It is about the possibility of our reacting and conversing.

A web site is not a “blog” if it doesn’t permit comments. Absent the possibility of comments, it is basically just a “press release”: merely someone with a static web page lecturing us about what they create and assert. If you fear what you create for the public will be critiqued, I suggest it would be best if you did not create anything for the public. Artists are supposed to foster and welcome discussion, even criticism, and to be brave, not cowards.

Have a good weekend, wherever you are in the world. πŸ™‚

2 replies »

  1. I can never understand how people can read multiple books at the same time. But your selection I understand a bit better – all of them serve a different purpose.

    When it comes to the comments, I have to agree with you. It boggles my mind when I visit blogs with no comment sections. Some people are all about “Likes”, but then, there are people who post, but disable “Likes”, or comments, leaving only the share option. It just leaves a weird taste in my mouth. Makes me feel like they think they are too good for the commons.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for that. I much enjoy hearing from visitors beyond mere “likes.” I don’t mind being disagreed with cogently and reasonably. That’s how we learn. The shame is there is so little of that on the net.

      Liked by 1 person