I was thinking recently about movie critics and their reviews, how often it occurs that a movie that critics love makes little money at the box office, and a movie they hate makes blockbuster bucks. At the same time, a general funk had overtaken me, the kind of funk familiar to writers everywhere, i.e. “I guess my writing is a pile of manure and nobody wants it.” Doubts and insecurities. But the thought about the movies cheered me up. Briefly. If movie critics represent an assessment of quality, then the American public loves piles of manure and spend big bucks for them! Hollywood wants their money, and that’s their motivation for making the movies they make. But the question nagged at me: what is quality art? How do we know quality art? What are the criteria that make art high quality?
Yeah, yeah, right. I know. It’s all subjective and difficult to pin down. One person’s quality art is someone else’s pile of manure. Personal taste enters into the process of assessment. However, works of art exist that everyone agrees are quality art, e.g. Shakespeare’s plays, the Sistine Chapel, Beethoven’s symphonies, and probably a lot of the novels required reading in high school, e.g. The Lord of the Flies, Ethan Frome, Billy Budd, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc. Critics may establish a set of criteria by which they assess the success of a novel or movie or play as art. A group of critics may agree on certain criteria, disagree on others. But the bottom line is that the quality of a work of art is a subjective determination as well as one based on personal taste. Disagreements will abound.
Last week, Dan Brown’s latest novel was published and sold millions on the first day. Congratulations to him! But is that novel art, and is it of high quality? I haven’t yet read it. I was one of the last people on the planet to read his The Da Vinci Code. My personal opinion of that novel was: the ideas were ripping good, but the writing was nothing special. Definitely not high art, in my opinion. He had the thriller formula exactly right. I suspect that Mr. Brown has no deep interest in writing novels that are high art. He probably wants to tell good stories that people will buy.
I want to write quality fiction that people will buy. I want to tell stories, too, specifically Evan Quinn’s, but I don’t want them to be regarded as piles of manure. More to the point, I want the writing, the characters, and the story to be quality art that people want to read and will buy.
Write what you need to write. I am interested in the authentic expression of my creativity, not following a formula, not doing what everyone else is doing. I need to write what I write, explore the subjects I’m exploring in the Perceval novels, and express my imagination through them. I must write, as I must breathe.
Well, you know, Shakespeare’s plays weren’t considered quality art when they were written and first produced. They were successful entertainment, well written. The public greeted Beethoven’s symphonies with shock and horror beginning with the Third. Much later, around the time he completed his Ninth, the public accepted his music as something higher than entertainment. Michaelangelo, when he painted the Sistine Chapel, just wanted to keep the Pope happy and the payments coming.
They say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” The ultimate statement of personal taste. So it must be my work to strive for successful entertainment, well written, rather than the perfection of quality art. And to write what I need to write…..