To follow up my blog, What is Feminism, now the discussion of What is Art? Man, I should start a "What is..." series!
This lively discussion was started on Flash Flood, sparked its way to Killer Year, has made a pit stop at Thinking With My Skin and is now lighting up my blog. Though I won't perhaps post as much as I could since I've made some lengthy comments on Killer Year (so if you feel like you're wanting more after reading this post, visit Killer Year and check out Sandra Ruttan's thought provoking post and then read the comments, which were very interesting as well).
One comment in particular in response to Sandra's post sparked something in me, posted by "Flood" whom I can only assume is the blogger from Flash Flood, where this conversation was started. Flood wrote: Art is supposed to move people and nowhere in the rules does it say that it’s supposed to make anyone feel good. Okay, I can buy that (except where are these "rules"? Can I get a copy?), but I think there's a big difference between making your readers feel "good" and not making them feel complete despair or to negatively and incorrectly impact the way they perceive a horrific crime, such as child sexual abuse. Maybe it's just me, but if a story implies or explicitly states that children enjoy being abused, then I personally would like to puke on the story (excuse the visual image). Perhaps I have very strong feelings about this issue since I've done Tons of research on the subject matter and know how devastating such abuse is to a child, but how do we feel about someone reading a story saying that that doesn't know any better? Then they might actually believe that shit.
I don't advocate that a story or art in general has to make people feel good, rather I don't know if I agree with ending a story in utter despair with no hope whatsoever. I don't intend to say that a story has to end with a pretty red bow and everyone skipping into the rainbow, but maybe the protagonist doesn't jump off the bridge. Is she still in a miserable marriage or life? Sure, but something made her value life when she was on the verge of losing it... and that's just enough hope to let a reader close the covers of the book or lit mag and feel like they can survive because the character could. I definitely don't agree with art that propagandas inaccurate and damaging perceptions of a victim (such as child abuse or rape victims) that either blames the victim or takes away from the truth of their horrifying experience. Saying that a child enjoys the sexual abuse (while it Is normal for a child to be sexually aroused because their physical bodies Can't Help It!) is one of the hugest inaccuracies I've ever heard.
Anyways, every artist has their own personal perception on what art IS,what constitutes art to them and what art they would like to create, and they are all entitled to their opinion. I know for me I will Never support anything that supports violence or abuse of others without being honest and showing the pain it causes. Abuse hurts, end of story. People don't Enjoy it. Perhaps they crave it to punish themselves or because they hate themselves, but that's not Enjoying it. That's a dysfunctional yearning probably born in abuse in the first place. As for what art I create, my stories can be dark, I'll be the first to admit. I've had friends look at me in shock after reading one of my stories, knowing only my bubbly, social side. How did that come out of You?! they ask me, showing me how well I've hidden the deep pool of darkness and pain that lives inside of me, grown from my own dysfunctional childhood. But I know that there is hope and strength in life because I've lived it, and I choose to create art that conveys this hope and strength. The message that life can go on and that it'll never be perfect, but it goes on. What was so special of Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings if not the strength and hope Angelou shows out of horrific abuse? Had she not picked herself back up, the book would have lost its impact and perhaps would have discouraged those trying to pick themselves back up after such abuse. Angelou wasn't completely at peace with herself at the end of the novel, but she was trying and she wasn't giving up hope, which is what made the book so meaningful to the millions of people who have read it.
Regardless of how we view art or how we choose to create it, artists and writers cannot be naive to the fact that their art does carry a message whether or not they mean it to. As artists, we just have to decide what we want that message to be, and can we live with it if someone takes it to heart and acts on it? Obviously one story can not make a perfectly happy person want to commit suicide, but for that person who is deciding whether to live or not, a story about how hopeless life is and how there's nothing to live for could legitimately push the person over the edge, it could be their catalyst.
That's just my feelings on the topic, and yes, folks, I do have a strong opinion on this one! As should any artist since it affects the very essence of their work and how they conduct their work. It is only because this topic is so close to the artist's heart and being that it has sparked such passionate comments and posts in blogosphere, and it is for that reason we must discuss until we're lying on the floor panting from exhaustion!
Thanks everyone on Flash Flood, Killer Year and Thinking With My Skin for their posts and comments that has inspired me to write a much longer post then I intended and for challenging and stimulating my beliefs and thoughts on this matter.
Update: Check out this post on Wog Girl Meets World. Her story is the story that sparked much of this discussion and she has some great comments on the whole experience!
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