If you’ve been on the Internet for a while, you’ll know that it’s pretty normal for discussion groups to fall into philosophical debates about abstract questions from time to time. DargonZine’s writers are just as liable to argue philosophy as any other group, but we recently had a long discussion that I’d like to share with you, because it raised some interesting questions and opinions about a particularly pernicious topic that means a great deal to us: are we artists or not?
I think forms of expression like painting and architecture would fall into most people’s definition of “art”, but we found ourselves asking first whether any literature is art. Most, but definitely not all, of us thought that made sense, but then we started talking about what it is that makes one field qualify as art and another not. Is poetry an art? Music? Dance? Perhaps. Are fashion designers artists? Are interior designers? Could cooking be art? Or psychology? Advertising? Is it not possible that teaching is a form of art? Or the practice of politics? Law? Accounting? And above all, *why* are they (or are they not) “art”?
This whole thread began when one of our contributors expressed that he viewed his writing as more of an engineering task than an artistic one. Other writers disagreed, but we all struggled to describe what makes one activity art and another activity a craft, and which would enable us to determine whether we were artists or not. In the end, we just wound up with a half-dozen different definitions that each had merits, but didn’t encompass everything that art means to people. However, our debate did wind up reinforcing DargonZine’s mission, and your role as readers in helping us achieve that mission.
Of course, we started with the oft quoted “art is the creation of something from nothing” definition, but others went further afield. One person defined art as the creation of something that could be universally understood, while another contradicted that by saying that artists are people “whose work I can never quite understand”. One person defined art as something that goes beyond what is necessary for the creation of an object; another said it’s something wherein one can discern the creator’s unique signature. And still another writer felt that art is subjective, something which only is meaningful in the context of use or interpretation by people.
In the end, that there were two prevalent opinions. One group of people believe that art must have a sensory impact on a viewer, and that writing, which is a mental exercise, didn’t qualify; the other group took a broader view, saying that all human activity can be a form of artistic expression, which would include literature as well as many other pursuits.
Those two contrasting ideas were mirrored in our opinions about whether artistry is innate or learned. Half of us believe that although the craft of writing can be taught, you can’t learn the spark of brilliance and inspiration that is creativity; meanwhile, the rest espouse the egalitarian view that everyone is born with the potential to incorporate art into our work, but that only some of us nurture it.
We spent a lot of time trying to understand the difference between craft and art. The author who approached his writing as an engineering task pointed out that writing uses basic, learnable skills to create something. But anyone who has been to art school will confirm that much of art is the learning of these structured, methodical, technical skills whose results can be measured, tested, and enumerated. In that sense, writing (and art) is like engineering, but is there anything more to writing than just putting words together in the best way to make the reader understand what the author is trying to say? Most of us think so.
So, are we, DargonZine’s writers, artists or not? I’ll leave you with several quotes as representative samples of how we felt about the question.
“Do I consider myself an ‘artist’? Definitely not.”
“I am an artist. An artist uses both craft and inspiration.”
“I don’t think anyone *has* to consider themselves an artist. I don’t, though I try like heck to be one …”
“We are most emphatically artists one and all, in my opinion.”
“Maybe I define ‘art’ as ‘fine art’, and I don’t consider what I do to have enough merit to fall into this category.”
“We as writers *are* all artists, though we can suppress the *art* of writing and approach it merely as work.”
One of the definitions mentioned above asserted that art is something that is subjective and that can only be evaluated in the context of another person’s reaction to it. While there’s an objectively measurable, technical craft to our proper use of grammar and spelling, the vast majority of what we do as creative writers is indeed subjective. We can’t say that we did a great job at plot, imagery, characterization, or tension without asking someone to give us his or her opinion.
In the final analysis, because a “good” story is a subjective judgment, the only way for us to measure how “good” our stories really are is by showing our work to one another and to thoughtful readers like you who are willing to give us feedback and honest reactions to our work. That is the mission that DargonZine has pursued since it was founded back in 1984, and it’s the reason why this project has succeeded and is on the verge of our 18th year online.
And that underscores how important your feedback is to us. Thanks for playing your part in this experiment as together we help more and more aspiring literary artists grow and learn.
Astute readers will note that it’s been about ten weeks since our last issue. Usually, our issues come out about every six weeks, but as discussed in the Editorial from our last issue, the pipeline of submissions has been slow this year, and it looks like we’ll be unable to put issues out as frequently as we have in the past.
Rest assured, however, that there are some great stories currently in our peer-review process, and we’ll bring them to you just as quickly as our writers finalize them.
Today’s issue includes two haunting single-part stories from newcomer Charles Schweppe and perennial favorite Stuart Whitby. The issue concludes with the second half of Dafydd’s “Talisman Eight”. I hope you enjoy it!
And again, thank you for your interest in DargonZine. Please take the time to rate the stories you read, because since you are the only way for us to judge how “good” our fiction is, we really couldn’t do it without you!