Why it’s all such dreadful crap

October 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

What strikes me most, whenever I consult Wikipedia entries on writers or film directors, is the very long list of works they commit: most manage a movie or a novel a year — for thirty or forty years straight!

Yet, anyone who works in an intellectually stimulating field knows how difficult and how rare it is to produce an original, good thought; and how important it is for a mind to be underemployed if it is expected to produce good results:  time to germinate and gestate good ideas in our slow, turtle mind — the subconscious; time to realize them and line them up; time to review them and cull them of chaff; time to present them in legible way.

Knowing all this, you scratch your head:  how can it be possible for all these people to work so furiously, so incessantly, and to produce good work?

The answer is — it isn’t.  Most of these thirty or forty works are scrap;  one or two may be worth the while, but the rest is as good as forgotten now.  What is worse, the time spent turning out mountains of second rate trash probably detracts from the time needed to produce the one or two true masterpieces that the author might have in him.  Unless you’re a Mozart, or a Beethoven, being overly productive almost certainly is — counterproductive.

Why do artists insist on producing at such a furious rate?  (Ian Mac on his fortieth so-so novel this year).

The answer is economics:  in part it is the unpredictability surrounding royalty streams:  since no one can know in advance which work will go on to be that stuff of which old age pensions and family fortunes are made — the long-seller — everyone tries to improve his chances by producing many works — on the theory that thirty shots at the dart-board are better than one; but more important is the idea that to establish oneself in the market, and to remain within it, one must always remain in the public eye; and this means publishing annually.  A musician once explained this to me so:  you wonder why I took on that worthless gig?  Well, I took it because if I decline, well, then they will not invite me next time when the going is good.

This maybe good economics but is hardly good art.  If an artists has it in him to make one or two truly good works within his lifetime, provided he has the time to think them trough and polish them, then keeping him busy producing a series of half-baked annual abortions distracts him and — ruins his chances at greatness.  The Magic Mountain took twelve years to write.  Rememberance of Things Past — thirteen (Swann’s Way alone — four).  Il Gattopardo — probably fifty to gestate.

It also means that we, the consumers of that art, have to swim through that tide of mediocrity; and that nearly everything which is thrown our way is un-thought-through, incomplete, slapdash, tawdry, gimmicky, and cheap.

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