Beginner’s Mind (Part 1) 02/26/21

Picasso is famous for saying “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

I think that writers can get so technically good that they end up with nowhere to go, with technically “perfect” novels that no one wants to read. The reason for this is that art itself does not benefit from being perfect.

I’m going to go deeper into this over the next few blogs, because it’s something that I’ve been thinking about for the past month or so, and I think it’s an important point to make, especially if you’re reading and wondering whether or not you’re good enough to be a writer. My contention is that it is the people who are not traditionally “good” at writing who have the best shot at being widely read.

Okay, let’s get it going:

Have you ever seen one of those incredibly lifelike drawings people can do these days? Check this shit out:

Diego Fazio

That’s pencil.

Looking at something like that, it’s difficult not to be impressed by the sheer level of technical skill it takes to draw that. You’d be lying if you said that’s not awesome.

For me, however, and for a lot of people, I don’t think I’d hang that or any portrait like it in my house. With all due respect to the artist.

Now, of course, somebody would. The guy is successful and (probably) wealthy. But I’m talking about people like me, I guess.

Remedios Varo

This, on the other hand, I would hang in my house. There’s nothing lifelike about it. It’s dreamlike. But still, with this particular work, there’s a level of technical mastery to it. It is obviously applied to something that is not meant to be photorealistic, but it is compelling and interesting and full of feeling.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Now we’re getting into that territory of “heyyy…I could paint that.”

Could you?

What we’re seeing with this piece is a fierce control over chaos, a kind of steady, dynamic skill born of years of tagging, which is what Basquiat did a lot of around Brooklyn in the late ’80s.

Again, this is something I’d have up in my house. I love this piece.

Okay, so what does all of this have to do with writing? Writing is words on a page, not images, and there is such a thing as story, character, style, etc.

What I’m saying is that writing can often, even if it isn’t trying to be “photorealistic,” skew too close to a set of rules put down by MFA programs and exemplified in the “literature” that gets published by the Big Five. What a lot of writing is missing is the idea of forced simplicity, clunkiness, and even ugliness in the service of creating a holistic picture that is better than if everything had been “perfect.”

More on this tomorrow, as it’s going to take some time to tease this out.

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