What great art does

booksKaspa writes: 

“…art should enhance our interest in the world, not push us toward greater irony, disinterest, lack of humor and a sense that everything’s all been done before and we can only laugh at it or waste away.”

~ David Rothenberg, Survival of the Beautiful

What does your writing/painting/sculpting do? Does it take you into the world or away from it? Does it take you towards enchantment or disenchantment?

There’s an image doing the rounds on Facebook that made me think . A small boy is standing on a heap of books looking over a wall. This side of the wall is scattered with litter, and the wall is covered in graffiti. On the other side of the wall is a fantastic land full of colour and light and beautiful things, space rockets and butterflies. The caption reads, “Books: This is exactly how they work.”

My heart sank when I saw this image. I guess that I read the picture back to front, compared to everyone who was sharing it.

When I was a child I read books that took me away from the world into lands where heroes were always heroic, and the very act of being part of a story seemed to help the world make sense for the characters. Their world making sense didn’t particularly help mine make sense though, it just made me long for the beautiful land on the other side of the wall… when I felt like I was stuck with the litter and graffiti.

My childhood world wasn’t all litter and graffiti, but the literature I was reading didn’t help me appreciate the world that was right in front of me.

When I look at that picture of the child standing on the books again I realise that you can write about both sides of the wall in helpful and unhelpful ways.

Great literature can come from both sides of the wall. Reading about the land of space rockets can encourage us back into our own worlds with a sense of adventure and interest in the world beyond our small horizons. Reading about the graffiti artist’s life, reading the conditions that led to them painting on the wall, and even the conditions the led to the wall being built, can help us to understand the world around us. Reading about this side of the wall can help us see the world in a whole way – a way that is much more likely to guide us towards knocking a hole in those bricks…

Poor literature can come from both sides of the wall too. The space rockets can take us into a world of cliché, a world of fantasy where the hero gets the girl and everything that goes with that. It can lead us to a world that leads us away from reality, that gets in between us and the world – that keeps us in our place of non-engagement. Non-engagement can come from the littered side of the wall as well, works of irony and satire that undermine the world without offering alternatives.

Practising mindful writing leads to the first kind of literature on both sides of the wall. When we pay attention to the world our writing comes more alive and (fingers crossed) takes the reader to a place of aliveness too, rather than a place of disinterest and deadness.

Where is your writing going?

Comments & replies

5 thoughts on “What great art does

  1. Ellecee

    I will have to think for awhile to answer that last question. Where is my writing going? I know that I like to see over the wall even if I can’t get there just yet. I like to look at the possibilities out there. I like to dream. I also can look at this side of the wall and accept the good and the bad in my experience here. I can wallow with the best of them but I don’t do it for long thank goodness. I enjoyed this article very much,,,,it has me thinking,,,and that has to be a good thing,,,,

  2. francesca

    I recently had a conversation that has made me think deeply about books and whether I am too much attached to reading and cling to books as a way of not confronting and escaping reality, This article can now be added into that mix – like Ellecee above, it has me thinking and thinking. Thanks Kaspa!

  3. Christine

    I like the picture, it immediately resonated with me. Modern children’s books are much more relevant to the world contemporary children are living in. I studied Children’s Literature in 2009/10 and it opened up the world to me, even as an adult. I hadn’t realised as a child of the fifties and sixties how the literature I read when I was young was the product of an age of paternalism and imperialism that had already had its day. To me those stories were the way things were outside my enclosed world. I was Jo in ‘Little Women’ and she made good in the end. I was Sleeping Beauty and one day my prince would come. It didn’t matter that things would work out quite differently, it gave me a goal.
    As a child, children’s literature taught me to dream in an environment that was claustrophobic. It was a porthole into a world of possibilities, even when my reading material consisted kids novels written by Victorians and a stack of years-old ‘Girl’ annuals with stories about girls at boarding school (while I trudged off the the local comprehensive in my *grey* uniform). It helped me escape the monotonous reality of my life and must have been instrumental in my development and that of my children. I suspect it may even have saved my sanity.
    Now books show me yet another reality, the world of science, spirit and philosophy and the metamorphosis continues.

  4. Kaspa Post author

    Thanks for your comments everyone – the quote and the picture both made me think in different ways, so I thought I’d share…. Francesca, I’ve not read a novel for a good long time now… I like genre fiction (cop stories, and things with spaceships in) but it’s hard to find good literature in those areas… I did enjoy ‘the yiddish policemen’s union’ recently.

Comments are closed.