Quality Art


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…..

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4 responses to “Quality Art

  1. Hi ccyager,

    I have been following your blog for a couple of years now, never left a comment, and finally decided to say hi! First and foremost, I would like to let you know that since I first found this blog, I cannot wait to see your books published and sold in bookstores. I am sure there are many readers out there as eager as I am to read your work, which has such a unique main character, set in an interesting, experimental background and time.

    I have always enjoyed reading your observations and thoughts on conducting and the Minnesota Orchestra, etc., being a fellow Minnesotan myself. (I am a grad student at the U of M.) About my interests in classical music (which drew me to your blog in the first place): I had learned the piano since I was little, and playing in the school orchestra was a big part of my highschool life. Conductor worship was of course part of the joy! My highschool conductor has been an important mentor in my life, which explains my fascination with conductors.I have completely lost touch with playing classical music since I left home for college, so listening to CD’s and reading books / blogs about classical music are the closest I can get. They are always good relief to the everyday pressure of life.

    Again, thanks for sharing your work and thoughts. Please keep up with your good work: we need more good novels on conductors, who are such unique creatures of their own. (I have only been able to find R. Ford’s “The Student Conductor.”) Best of luck to publication!

    Sincerely,
    Lydia

    • Thank you, Lydia, for your kind comments and encouragement! I love hearing from you — and any other lurkers out there who haven’t said hello at least once! — and getting to know my readers.

      Musicians are interesting people, and being a conductor takes a unique intellect and heart. I know of no other novels with conductors as main characters, so thanks for the mention of R. Ford’s. I’ll look it up.

      I will definitely post any news about agent representation or publication here….(smile)

      For CDs, I can recommend without reservation the Minnesota Orchestra’s Beethoven Symphonies conducted by Osmo Vanska. Superb. And I can recommend their concerts, also, of course! (smile)

      Books about conductors/conducting you might find interesting, Lydia, are: “The Psychology of Conducting” by Peter Paul Fuchs (out of print but libraries often have it — an excellent resource); “The Composer’s Advocate: A Radical Orthodoxy for Musicians” by Erich Leinsdorf (conductor); and “Conductors on Conducting” by Bernard Jacobson. The only one I’ve checked for at Amazon is Fuchs’ and there was a used copy that was obscenely expensive that I chose not to buy.

      I appreciate your loyalty to my blog and your interest in Evan and the Perceval novels. Comment again anytime!

      Cinda

      • Hi ccyager,

        Just to mention other books about conductors / conducting that I love (I had browsed through the titles you mentioned on amazon before): “The Cambridge Companion to Conducting.” (I own a few other books in the “Cambridge Companion to Music” series and they are all very high quality works and very enjoyable reads.) Just 2 weeks ago I also checked out B. McElheran’s “Conducting Technique for Beginners and Professionals,” which gave me some preliminary idea on what a conductor’s training is like. (The right hand should be able to beat on autopilot through time signature changes, while the left should be totally independent and be able to perform various tasks, e.g. arranging pencils on a table!) It’s a short book, seems like a classic for student conductors, and is entertaining enough for a novice like me!

        Lydia

  2. First of all, write what you want to write, because if you try to write something to appeal to somebody else it will almost certainly fail. Every time a Tom Clancy or Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling comes along and hits it big, a whole bunch of authors stop what they are doing and go ‘ah ha!’ that’s the formula. “I just need to do that.” As a result, most of those books turn out to be junk nobody wants to read. Whether it be painters, writers or musicians – the most successful ones got that way by doing what they love and putting all of their passion into it regardless of whether or not anyone ended up buying it. Write what you want to write and make it the best you possibly can. If you do that, there is a chance it will be read. It might even hit it big! If you try chasing a market, nobody will read it.

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