On Poetry and Culture Shock

Neil Gaiman writes about the purpose of Art.

Commenting on the sneak-preview reactions to the novel he is just about to release, Neil Gaiman writes this:

as an artist (of any kind) you make things for an audience, normally because you like them. You hope they'll work. (An analogy I used in the Locus interview, talking about short stories, was making clay pots at school. Sometimes you get a pot. Sometimes you get something only a grandmother could love.) And you hope, mostly, that people will like or enjoy or appreciate them. (Or sometimes, just that the story will prickle people or make them think.)

It is probably true. I write better when I have an audience; when I don't have one, or at least when I'm not writing becuase someone else's prompt, after I'm done the question is the same: Is this good enough to show to my best friend? to my poet friends? to my mother? The measure of whether I like my own work or not is normally my intuition of whether something that has never seen the light would be enjoyed by people I know. Having said that, writing for a audience can become pornographic in the sense that I'm giving my audience exactly what pleases them, making things as easy as possible for them. I had a professor that called your average bestseller "masturbation" because they told you what to wanted to hear. Too much pleasure, too little challenge.

In one of the literary online groups I belong to there is currently a heated debate bout the worth of James Joyce's Ulysses. The attackers have mostlyone argument: it is incoomprehensible and art should be understood before it is enjoyed. They invert the terms of my professor's understanding and think that the book is "mastubation" in the sense that the book is so hermetic that the author has all the fun and leaves the readers out of it.

As usual, it is a matter of balance. Too easy and it's too flat. You might please the crowds or bore them to death. Too hard and you create a freak that very few people might love fiercely and everyone else will despise, or be afraid of.

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