Artistic endeavors are interesting things. In order to be accomplished, in any sort of way, one has to develop the underlying craft. Now, I’m not using that word in the pretentious way I hear it being used, e.g., “I am devoted to my craft,” she said, brushing stray strands of ermine from her face. No, I am talking about the grunt work that it takes to perfect the “art.”
For photographers, that means learning about composition, lighting, shutter speeds, camera types, angles, and more. It means you need to understand what the Rule of Thirds is, what vanishing points are, and when to use, or ignore these and other rules. It means you spend hours poring over texts, taking test photos, doing post processing. It means failed experiments with lighting and accidental delights. In short, it means work.
For writers, there are just as many technical details to learn. You need to know how to structure a story, what good pacing is and isn’t. You need to know grammar and spelling, editing and proofreading. You learn word usage, sentence structure. And then you read, read, read. Soon, there is no such thing as reading for pleasure — all reading is education, although some you get to enjoy.
Over time, you develop the skills, perfect the tools. Then, if luck persists, you go out and apply them, and hold your breath, and await the boomerang of criticism.
We wait, breathlessly, do artists. It’s not that we are weak-minded. Neither is it that we lack backbone, and need the affirmations of others to substitute for our own fortitude. Rather, it is that confidence in artistic endeavors are either transitory, or altogether false. Rarely is good art absolute, and when it is, you can be certain you are in the presence of a master.
Rembrandt was always good; so much so that even today we cannot tell his work from his students’. Why? Because his style came to define “good,” no matter how briefly. Van Gogh? Not so much. Was he good? Great? Did his work improve after his death, or did we become enamored with it because we love the sorrowful romance of his life story? We’ll never know for certain. All we know is that now, his work defines “good.”
And so it goes. No matter how many words I write (700,000 in my books, to date) I will never know whether they are good or not. The reason is simple: I don’t determine what is good. That is determined by those whom read them. Are popular, poorly written books (Shades of Grey, for example) good, or well-written, unread books that slipped off the shelves into the netherworld of dusty back bins good? Is it good because we say so, or because it was read? Is a photo a masterpiece because a million eyes have seen it, or because those few who have were moved enough to weep?
It’s not for me to say.
All I can offer is that I’ve been photographing since I was 12, and have been serious since I was 16. I have no idea if I’m good. I know I’m okay, as my work gets enough attention to qualify as okay. Is my writing good? Is Roxx a good book because one reader loved it enough to want to remember the words, or is it defined by those who started reading and didn’t finish? Is the book excellent because each chapter in the 2nd half is better than the one before, or poor because it doesn’t race to the ending like the Hunger Games trilogy? What the hell difference does it make?
What defines the gift a work brings is how it is remembered, or, more accurately, if it is remembered. Whatever I write will be judged a success or failure long after I am gone. If a child, who is not currently alive today, laughs, or cries, at one of my stories, then I am a good writer. Until that happens, I’ll work under the assumption that I am not. Not yet.
Which means, of course, I have work to do. And work. And work. And work.
Because it’s not a craft, unless you are crafting it.