Fascinating but totally useless artistic experiments

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Why does any writer sit down to write?

For exactly a year, I’ve sat on a book I told myself I had to start. It wasn’t the subject matter that had me tripped up. I simply didn’t see a point in going to great lengths to say something that felt insignificant. It’s such a crippling feeling to want to write but to feel it’s not worth anyone’s time, namely my own.

According to a recent piece by The New Yorker, “personal essays cry out for identification and connection,” but cautions that the system, “the personal essay economy, is a dangerous forum for people to participate in” as it often returns feelings of shame and ridicule. In other words, people looking to pour their intimate insights out to the Internet often aren’t met with the comforting head nodding they so crave.  

I’m not sure I agree. Some may write personal essays for themselves. This is why I write — to better understand ill-defined inklings percolating in my brain. “Identification and connection” are lovely byproducts but not the root force driving me to write.

So taking this full circle…when musing over “why does the writer sit down to write,” I don’t think all those who string words together do so for the same reason (naturally). That said, every writer has an audience in mind, even if sometimes that audience is oneself.

So here I am writing for myself. I want to own that I’m writing for myself. It’s suppose to finally allow me to be okay with not having to say anything of substance. I can write for the exercise of writing rather than the final product.

Philosophy Now argues “art is something we do, a verb. Art is an expression of our thoughts, emotions, intuitions and desires but even more personal than that; it’s about the way we experience the world, which for many is an extension of personality.” In another argument,  the New Republic suggests that there’s two flavors of art and that “liberal” art refuses to be art for art’s sake. Instead, liberal art demands hyphenation– “We have art-and-society, art-and-money, art-and-education, art-and-tourism, art-and-politics, art-and-fun. Art itself, with its ardor, its emotionalism, and its unabashed assertion of the imagination, has become an outlier, its tendency to celebrate a purposeful purposelessness found to be intimidating, if not downright frightening.”

On the other hand  “Confessions of an Aesthete” suggests another flavor of art, one with the sole purpose of being itself rather than being an object in service of proving some higher ideological point. I find this delineation between liberal art and what I suppose amounts to conservative art rather American. What other country would question the “utility of art” the way the above “liberal art” argument seems to?

Maybe art doesn’t need to make a point, a conclusion. Maybe art doesn’t even need to be a finished product. Maybe art truly is a process of trying to arrive at truth, trying to accurately reflect how we’re seeing what’s around us.

Just as I found it liberating to set my audience as myself. I find defining art as a verb freeing.

Quartz recently released a fascinating article about winning at work by caring less. Oddly enough, it’s also about seeing value in a process rather than an end achievement.

The author makes the case that after WW2 Americans created a culture of “total work” wherein “work becomes total when all of human life is centered around it; when everything else is not just subordinate to, but in the service of work. We believe in working on ourselves as well as on our relationships. We think of our days off in terms of getting things done. And we take a good day to be a day in which we were productive.” The article goes on to question, how we might actually enrich our lives by letting go of our drive to be productive, or in other words to complete to-do lists, make things, and otherwise push ourselves continuously toward goals: “Once you’ve detached the notion of success from that of happiness, you need to work out how else to find that satisfaction—but without actually achieving anything. This exercise opens us up to Oscar Wilde’s famous dictum, ‘All art is quite useless.’ We can refute total work’s claim that only useful things are valuable by taking Wilde at his word, and considering how we can perform fascinating but totally useless artistic experiments in our own lives.”

The conclusion of this quote — “[how can we train ourselves to] perform fascinating but totally useless artistic experiments in our own lives?” is likely the entire reason I’ve decided to return to writing More Interested. I’m surrendering to the notion that his book needs to be a success let alone get published. I’m choosing (or trying) to invest in the joy of writing as a process. Maybe this process will result in a finished product maybe it won’t.

Then again, while writing for myself may help me get going on this process, but I know that what will push me to finish it is the audience of others — An audience that’s at first personal and second anonymous.

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