I’ve been thinking more about my reaction to some writers. One can be a writer…anyone can be a writer in the sense of putting sentences together that form longer narratives…but not everyone is an artist. That’s the distinction I want to make between the work some people are publishing whether the book is self-published or travels the traditional route via a publisher, small or large.
But why is being an artist different and does it matter? Art should cause us to see others, the world, and ourselves differently. When it’s functioning best, it shakes our usual way of thinking/perceiving and connects us to something deeper. Transcends the everyday. If I’m just writing purely autobiographical material that’s barely disguised as fiction and not inventing as well, I’m not opening the door for something new to enter. Instead, I’m reiterating what I already know and passing it off as art—regurgitating. That isn’t to say that memoir/autobiography can’t be artful. It can. So can novels that have autobiographical elements. But, again, it’s how it’s written—the literary techniques and imagination the writer has at his/her disposal that transforms the raw material into artistic expression.
I realize I’m creating a hierarchy here, but I do think the best writers are priests/priestesses in their own way, offering through the word, through their words, through our universal language, a vision of something else. For me it’s equivalent to viewing our surroundings from a ground floor window versus climbing to the highest level and seeing how much more there is to know about. A writer who isn’t an artist seems to be stuck with that ground floor view. A writer who is an artist has much more scope in his/her work. He/she is able to transform his/her material, and that’s where the artistry comes in. Transformation is at the basis of many religions, and I think it’s also the basis of art: transmuting base metal into gold as the alchemists attempted to do. Taking the letters that make up our words and giving them magical powers to shape our thinking and seeing.