Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Why Bother?

Struggling this morning with the maybe-novel, and getting nowhere, I asked myself a question familiar to most writers at one time or another: Why write? Why put oneself through this? Hemingway's answer -- "For love, glory, money, and the love of women" -- somehow doesn't seem to cover it.

A larger-but-related question is: Why create any kind of art at all? How did art get started, and how did it get to be so widespread? Every culture, even the most primitive, has some sort of art: ornamented axe handles, beaded designs on animal fur. Biologists would say that for this human trait to be so universal, it must confer some evolutionary advantage. What is it? Recently I read two intriguing, albeit conflicting, answers.

Geoffrey Miller, in The Mating Mind, says that art began in the same vein as the peacock's tail: to attract mates. A man who could carve a great axe handle proved both that he was a good enough hunter to have extra time for carving and that he could make a nice courting present (who can resist a really nice axe handle)? So art began -- although didn't stay -- as proof of fitness to mate, which makes the Sistine Chapel one great sexual come-on.

Jane Jacobs, in The Nature of Economies, has a different explanation. She theorizes that art -- painting, dancing, music -- took up spare time that otherwise might lead early humans to over-use their habitat and thus possibly wreck it, or each other. The endless grooming of chimpanzees and the endless sex play of bonobos serve the same function: deterrent to more destructive activities.

Why am I reading (or rereading) this stuff instead of writing? Because my book is going badly. It's always easier to appreciate somebody else's art than to slog away at one's own. And it's better than hurling things around my habitat (read "study") in an excess of frustration.


Elver said...

It's always easier to write when you have something inside you burning to be said.

My advice (and I'm a complete unpublished newbie) would be to read the news, find something that makes you angry, research that further until you know all about the subject, then channel that anger into your writing. Charge yourself until you've got something burning inside you, waiting to be written.

none said...

I dunno, but I think it's sad to see people encouraged to consume rather than to create.

Luke said...

There's also the fact that your work will live on past you. When the artist is dead and gone, his books will still be lining store shelves (hopefully).

I think people do art for many of the same reasons people have kids (when it's intentional).

Carmen Webster Buxton said...

Having worked, in my youth, in visual arts, I think writing is more related to story-telling than to art—at least for me. If I had been born in prehistoric times, I would have spent my time thinking up stories to tell around a campfire. To me it's more the urge to entertain, to enthrall to make a connection with the listener/reader.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that there would be an evolutionary advantage in story-telling as it provides a way to explore one's options before one is committed to a course of action.

Dance can elicit a trance state, useful in surviving painful circumstances or focusing one's attention for battle.

Music manifests a state of mind that perhaps we all share but cannot be put into words.

Graphic arts may have originated as a form of history. The cave drawings depict animals, either as an object of reverence. Don't they communicate success in the hunt?

Frankly, it's a wonder to me that ALL of life isn't ART.

Steven Francis Murphy said...

I hope you have some luck with the maybe novel, Nancy. I am desperately looking for a new Kress novel to read.

S. F. Murphy

bluesman miike Lindner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bluesman miike Lindner said...

Why bother?
Birds sing. Writers write.
I don't believe there's a whole lot of choice about it.