Reprinted from a blog I abandoned in 2012. I thought it deserved a reprint on my new blog.
I commented to my better half the other day that writers get no respect. Well, let me rephrase that, unpublished writers get no respect. More specifically, non-traditionally published writers get no respect. She replied in her silly-rabbit-Trix-are-for-kids voice, “All struggling artists get no respect. What makes writers any different? Suck it up.”
That got me thinking (which gave me a headache), what’s the difference between an artist and a writer? Is there a difference? Are writers actually artists? After much thought and much caffeine my answer is that writers are not artists.
Yes, writing is a form of expressive creation, but so is architecture and architects are not artists. I’ve always wanted to pretend to be an architect, so I can speak with authority on this subject. For example, Mike Brady on the Brady Bunch was an architect, and did you see the awful wood paneling in his house? No self-respecting artist would have wood paneling in their house, so it’s obvious architects are not artists. In fact, architects are the result of ancient alien experiments combining the DNA of civil engineers with that of advertising executives. It must be true because I saw it on the History Channel...what was I talking about?
Oh yes, the difference between artists and writers.
The first, and most obvious, difference is struggling artist often are starving artists. Writers never starve. We’re a well fed lot, often in need of cardiovascular stimulation. Ever notice all those writers at Starbucks with lap tops and muffin tops? Screw Starbucks, if I thought I could look cool with my laptop at Dunkin Donuts I would live there. Better yet, Krispy Kreme. (Definition of Heaven: Dunkin Donuts coffee, Krispy Kreme Donuts, and free Wi-Fi). Writers like our comfort.
You can’t write and be uncomfortable. Carpel tunnel and back pain suck, so proper posture and a cushy chair are important, along with coffee and donuts. For example, Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel on his back (without donuts or coffee), which ruined his health. Chaucer, on the other hand, took lots of vacations and was granted a gallon of wine every day for the rest of his life by a King Edward the Third (donuts and coffee weren’t invented yet).
Thinking about Michelangelo brings up a good point – famous artists get mutant ninja turtles named after them. There are no genetically altered martial arts reptiles named Poe or Hemingway, though I once heard of a vicious cat named Shakespeare. (Hmm... what about genetically altered mutant ninja architects?) But back to my point...which was?
Ah, I remember! Artists suffer for their craft. Writers make others suffer for our craft. Writers pester those around them to read their stuff the way a Georgia fly pesters a steaming pile of crap (If you are the friend or spouse of a writer you are probably nodding in violent agreement right now.) Being self-aware of this fact, I no longer ask friends and family to read my writing (except for my draft blog posts, of course). Now I ask them to buy it on Amazon and write glowing reviews (but not under their real names).
Whether it’s visual or performance based, art is straight forward, direct and open for all to see. The effect is instant, the viewer quickly judges the artist’s work and there is no further commitment. Writers, however, ask the viewer to make a commitment. The viewer must dig, explore, and accompany the writer on a journey which, in the case of a series, may last days or weeks. No one goes to an art museum and says “I only got halfway through the Mona Lisa before I had to put it down.” Someone once said “Libraries are art galleries for books.” Actually, I said it, but it’s a lie. College students don’t sleep in art galleries between classes.
Writing is language; it contains massive amounts of information. Art is interpretive and is limited in the amount of data it can communicate. For example, when books are turned into movies they are always dumbed down. Let me put it another way, writers and their books are like ogres and onions, they’ve got layers (Yes, Shrek was a writer). Pages and pages of layers, perhaps exceeding one hundred and eleven thousand layers and up to one hundred and sixty-seven thousand layers, which I’ve been told is too many for a first onion by an unpublished ogre.
Art cannot lie. It is what it is, on a wall or on a stage and open for the entire world to see. Writers are good liars. On second thought, I take that back. Publishers and agents are good liars, writers are just gullible. If you don’t know what I mean, then you’re not really a writer and the line for architect school is over there.
In fact, writers are the most gullible, easily manipulated, and insecure group of people on earth. Writers and artist both want people to validate their efforts. However, an artist can take their art to the nearest craft fair, hang it on a tree and gain instant satisfaction. Writers, however, must get published. If you tell a writer you can help them get published they will believe, and probably do, anything you tell them, even if it makes no sense at all. Desperate writers will do almost anything to get published, except endure physical discomfort.
If someone tells an artist their painting sucks, the artist will scoff and think the critic a tasteless idiot. If someone tells a writer their book sucks, a writer will pester that person to the ends of the earth until they tell them exactly why it sucked, even if they secretly think the critic is a tasteless idiot.
To wrap this up, here are some more differences between artist and writers:
Artists are full of angst. Writers are grumpy.
Artists wear black. Writers wear pajamas.
Artists think they are cool. Writers want everyone to think they are cool.
Artists often draw naked people. Writers often think about naked people.
Artists drink wine and eat cheese. Writers drink coffee and cut the cheese.
Artist often must die before their work is appreciated. Writers would die to have their work appreciated.
Artists want to express themselves. Writers want to get rich so they don’t have to get a real job.
If you disagree with anything I’ve said here, please leave a comment with your email and snail mail address as well as daytime and nighttime phone numbers so I can reach you and pester you incessantly as to exactly why you didn’t like this blog post and what I can do to make it better. I promise I won’t call you a tasteless idiot...to your face.
(DISCLAIMER: No architects were harmed in the making of this blog.)