Art careers are doomed.
In a modern world that believes itself capable of replacing humans with AIs, and there are writer's strikes every now and then, and fathers often tell their children don't be a musician, better be a doctor, how does art resist?
Does it continue to be created in a way that changes people's lives, or are we facing a new future where artists are not needed anymore? Why is literature important at all? While facing political, economical and ambiental crises everyday, and the feeling that the world is ending, how can we keep ourselves motivated enough to wake up everyday and keep doing our little silly art?
I don't know if you have asked yourself these questions, but if you were ever a teenager trying to pick a career, you probably have. And you also know that art careers have a bad reputation. A reputation that has been changing over the course of the last few years, for sure.
Maybe your parents were supportive about it and none at all worried about how you were going to make enough money for a living. But even if that is your case, has anyone ever told you how “brave” you were by pursuing an art career? Or maybe they look at you with some kind of new respect, yet some disgusted fear and the following, inevitable, question of how are you gonna make it? Do you have a back up plan? You know, in case everything goes down.
I'm not saying that having a back up plan is not intelligent. For everything I do I try to have a Plan B, and… a Plan C. But that's not the point.
What I'm trying to remark is that no one ever asks a wanna-be doctor “Are you sure this is what you want to spend the rest of your life doing?” No one tells a wanna-be lawyer that they should have a back up plan, in case things don't go their way. Art careers are the ones always destined to failure. And this is a principle everyone is aware of, except for the naive eyes of the young artist.
ALSO: Death of the Amateur
But is it really doomed?
In my short experience, I have crossed paths with a lot of writers whose dream could be publishing a novel, but their ways to get there were really different from one another. There are people who teach –and not in a frustrated way! But in a really fun, motivating and inspiring way. There are people who understand what others need, and create a space or community for it. There are people who motivate other people, while making a living out of it.
But it’s not and it never was about the money, right? The thing with society not believing in art careers might have something to do with capitalism being at the center of everything, but it mostly has to do with the belief that art is worthless.
But God, are they wrong.
Art is useless
If you fancy, we can discuss why society is so uncomfortable with the idea of something not being useful–does something cease to exist if it cannot be used for your own benefit? Is it less valuable because its existence doesn't have a reason? We could say art is useless, but we keep on doing it because we love it, and that would be enough for us, right?
But if you’re one of those people who search for meaning in everything, we can go a little deeper.
Why we write
We write, first of all, to fulfil a wish. The wish of being seen, the wish of being listened to. The need to let go of certain things, or maybe to hold onto them, to make them last forever. We only perceive the world as we can and know how to, and there's an urge so raw to stick those perceptions onto paper.
For some of us, it’s the only way we conceive to understand the world around us. There's a need to escape our own mind, and on some occasions, a need to submerge deeper into it. We are slaves to our imagination, and the creations that emerge are not entirely our own, but something bigger. These creations have some kind of power, as they often come to life and beg to be written.
In other less dramatic worlds, we write because we need it.
We write because we feel connected to something, and we have the urge to do something about it. And when we write, the connections we feel to a lot of things end up connecting us to other people.
Now, I don't know how it works for painters or musicians, as I don’t have the talent nor the friends to ask. I do imagine that the process might be different, but the wish and inner needs are kind of the same. We start because we, as individuals, need it. But at some point, the song, the book, the piece of art, leave us and become a part of someone else.
The purpose of art
Have you ever listened to a song and thought to yourself: this was written for me, this tells exactly how I feel? Have you ever spent a night reading a book and crying through the end, because of how much the writer makes you feel? Or maybe you don't, but you still go to the cinema every weekend, and you can’t quite figure out what it is with movies that you are so passionate about.
It's a universal thing, to have some things we simply cannot express with words. Which is a very cynical thing to say in a writer's blog, but hear me out: Isn't it comfortable when that ache in your chest that you have tried to explain for months, is pictured by someone else and suddenly everything makes sense?
Does it make you feel less alone? When someone who doesn't know you, on the other side of the world, an ocean away, writes something that resonates with you so deeply, so mystically that you feel it was destined to find you, doesn't it feel like magic? Doesn’t it make the hurt feel a little less… painful?
I believe art, in every form, is destined to heal people in ways medicine cannot reach. Not to preach, I don't believe it would purify our souls and save us all from going to some kind of hell. But I do think, that in a world that grows more violent everyday, we need something to hold on to. Art, if we think about it, is a big relief that we take for granted.
Escapism or self reflection?
Someone could say, oh, you use art to escape your problems. And the thirteen year old girl that lives in me, who used to lock herself in her room to read Wattpad stories while their parents fought, might have to agree.
We do use literature as a form of escapism. Speculative fiction and fantasy, especially. I mean, we are literally leaving the real world to submerge ourselves in a better realm with fairies and dragons and all sorts of magical beings. We do it because we enjoy it, and there is nothing wrong with that.
But I'm gonna talk only for myself – and if it resonates with you, then I'm sorry – when I say that I do, sometimes, think life is not magical enough as it is in a book. When life's too boring or too unbearable, I know I can rely on a story to make everything else go away. And that is escapism.
But there’s also always a moment when this, as many things, blows up in my face. And that is when the story, somehow, circulates into my own life and reflects something from it. It doesn't matter how much I want to escape, if I'm in love with a book, it’s possibly because it resonates with me in a way others don't, so it ends up being a form of self reflection. We get there, we experience their world, but we, as the characters do, learn different things, we get to see the world from another perspective, another pair of eyes.
I don't know if literature, having such a strong connection with human existence and emotions, could have the ability to make us run away from ourselves or our realities. I think it's the other way around, literature makes us face everything about ourselves.
Why is literature important
I could say the things I'm sure you already know: how reading develops critical thinking, how reading educates people and gives them not only historical context, but different political views and the ability to come up with new ideas and form personal opinions.
We could say, in a very snobbish way, that reading some authors is better than others, and that speculative fiction might not be as great as… I don't know, some boring male biography that in a hundred years will be forgotten. But no, our speech goes beyond that. For me, it’s important that people enjoy what they read, no matter their age or the book genre, but why, why, why… Why is it so important?
It gives us hope.
Hope that things, eventually, will get better. Hope that we are not alone in the world. Hope that, even when we feel like what we’re experiencing for the first time is unique and unknown, there’s someone who has crossed that path and survived it. Life is carried by uncertainty, literature has questions and answers from all times, like a time machine.
We, as humans, invented stories in the caverns to survive the winter. To make our own stories last for centuries. We, as readers, need to make sure that those stories keep passing through other people, to give them what others left behind.
You shouldn't write
Why make an effort though? Why, when we have robots now that could do it? How do we encourage ourselves into a task that feels, most of the time, impossible? Something that would steal us years of our lives? And maybe never pay off? Even though we understand the purpose, there are so many people doing it, why should I do it too? Let someone else carry that burden.
But I don't really believe you can leave it. Can you?
It is, as we said, a need that comes from within. And all that’s left behind is to keep trying, and please, keep trying. Because success is not something you should be after, no one is in this craft really for money or fame, or things like that. Those chimeras will only appear in front of you if they want to, I'm convinced of that.
But the magic that comes with telling a story, and seeing others resonate with it, is something you deserve to feel. And if you have something to say, I'm pretty sure others will hear, and that´s kind of the point of putting so much effort and dedication into something that, at the very least, will last forever.
Some books are better than others
We have established that the world is awful, that art can save it, that writing is hard as chewing stone, and that literature is important. But, now, a final question:
Are some books better than others?
You will hate me, but yes, they are.
Rereading “On Writing” – a book that I highly recommend – I realized something that Stephen says when asked about the Theme:
"Theme is not as important as people want you to be obsessed with. But if you spend that much time dedicated to writing a book, you should go for a walk, and think why the hell did you spend so much time writing it. Why did it matter to you, in the first place? "
In the end, it's not really important how it's written, but it has to say something.
Please, make sure it says something.
Written for The Plottery
Juliana Palermo lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She's 22 but hasn't learned how to do her taxes yet. She works as a freelance editor and book cover designer, but you will find her drinking coffee and daydreaming during working hours. She is currently writing her first fantasy novel.
If you need her, you can say her name three times in front of a mirror and she will appear with a cynical smile. But let me warn you, her jokes are not as funny as she promised, and if you invited her in, there's a chance she will never leave.