It seems more and more, I'm doing all my business correspondence via email. Often, I get into thematic, even philosophic exchanges with folks who ask questions that might only require the most basic response. What can I say? I expound because I like to.
The theme for this week's missives seemed to be responsibility, and all its various permutations. Responsibility of the artist to his art; responsibility of the artist to his audience; responsibility of the audience to art; responsibility of the collaborative artist to his fellow artists; that sort of thing.
Some of these emails were awfully short; the responsibility of the artist to his art is to create it. A guy can sit around all day and claim that he'd be the best Whatever-ist in the history of everyone who'd ever attempted Whatever, if only The Man would give him his Big Break.
That's not an artist; that's a belly-ache-er. Not too much to talk about there.
An artist can't help but create his art.
And, in this, parenthetically, I mean for "art" to be a sort of Platonian ideal of art; an essence of art, not just squiggly lines on paper or heaps of pigment on stretched canvas. My mom, for example, is an artist of baked goods. Cookies, cakes, pastries, jelly rolls, Easter bread, you name it. But she is the Michaelangelo of pies; the friggin' Leonardo da Vinci of apple pie. She. Makes. The. Best. Pies. You. Will. Ever. Have. When she dies, her headstone will read: "Shirley Young, Beloved Mother, Beloved Wife. Too Bad She Died; She Made Good Pies."
An artist's responsibility to his art is to create; and each act of creation of art, by definition, makes the world a better place. That one's easy.
Easy, too, is the artist's responsibility to his audience. An artist owes his audience nothing but the best art he can create. Sometimes observers in the Peanut Gallery think that the artist owes them something and here's a harsh truth for those folks:
An artist doesn't care what you think, because an artist isn't creating his art for you; he's creating it for his audience. And usually, an artist's audience is himself.
I had a pleasant exchange of email this week where I had occasion to describe my process of writing; how I psyche myself up, banish inner demons, make myself not worry about outside observers, the whole thing. How I Get The Job Done. This is what I wrote:
"Usually, I don't answer these things, because these are questions no outside force can help you out on. But because I am feeling all full of sunshine and happiness today, I will tell you how I get it done.
"First, I have an idea. That's actually the easy part, for me, anyhow.
"Then, I forget that there's anyone else doing comics, because, let's face it, there are tons of folks who are more talented than me. Not to mention all the other people since 1938 who have made awesome comics. How do you compete with that? I don't. This comic I am sitting down to write will be the very best comic that has ever been made by human hands, because the only comics that exist are the ones I've written. And each one is better than the last, so... cool! Let's go!
"Next, I plot it out. Intro, inciting incident, progressive complication, End Act One. Act Two, Act Three, a dry joke if the missus lets me get away with one. End.
"By this time, all of the characters are 'talking' to me in my head, so I go back to the beginning of the plot and do page breakdowns. This happens here, this is what is said here; that kind of thing. Add dialogue: Oh, yeah? What about this? Look out! Let's get out of here!
"When I look up from the keyboard, there is a finished script. An artist whom I trust gets it, and my job is done, because they're gonna play with the pacing and whatnot and hopefully make it even better than the brilliance I thought it was.
"Assemble, print, ship. Collect money. It's EASY.
"Hopefully, this will shake you loose from your paralysis. But if you tell anyone I said anything to you other than 'Do; or do not. There is no try' I'll deny it.
"I have a gruff reputation to maintain."
So, here, I think an artist's responsibility is only to create art for himself. If other people dig it; right on. Always nice to keep the company of like-minded folks. But the responsibility is to the Audience of One.
The responsibility of the collaborative artist to his fellow artists is a tricky thing as well. If you're engaging in collaborative art, chances are it's a commercial art of some kind, and that adds another spin to the axis. Commercial artists produce art for an audience of one, sure, but with a heapin' helping of the added spice of money-is-the-root-of-all-evil. It's no longer the artist himself who he's trying to please, ostensibly, but rather a larger crowd than the audience of one. Otherwise, one wouldn't need a collaborator or two, yes?
So the collaborative artist's responsibility to his fellow artists is to Be On The Team. Just as the artists need to find one voice with which to sing together, also should they all be of a like mind as to the final goal of the art. A little of the old everybody-should-face-the-same-direction you hear so much about nowadays. Everyone needs to paddle the canoe at the same rate, or you never get upstream, yes?
The responsibility of the audience to art?
That one's even easier: it's like the man spinning the big wheel on the boardwalk midway says: you pays yer money and you takes yer chances.
LIBRA: Stepping on others' feet is unavoidable, so you might as well proceed. Whether you want to tiptoe or stomp on 'em is entirely up firstname.lastname@example.org
Out in comic stores this week: Couscous Express by Brian Channel Zero Wood and Brett Weldele. The high-octane, adrenaline-fueled original graphic novel shows what happens when a spoiled brat and her mercenary boyfriend help out her parents who've run afoul of the Turkish Scooter Mafia. Fans of The French Connection and Bullitt will be crying tears of joy Wednesday the 17th, I assure you. Special note to Comic Book Resources readers: just as he entertains us with his Permanent Damage column, Brother Steven Grant leads Couscous Express off with a riveting and insightful introduction which is worth the price of admission alone. Think of it as paying $12.95 for his intro and getting 88 pages of original graphic novel that kicks your ass for free.
While you can get your news and commentary about the funny books all over the Internet, I usually make it a point to let slip at least one bit of information at the Loose Cannon Message Board that I post nowhere else.