I decided that, rather than spending my first official blog post writing some kind of bio, I wanted to stick a little closer to the real purpose of For Art’s Sake: discussing art! It seems obvious to start with stories of how my mom made me read as a child (thanks, mom!), but I wanted to try and walk you all through some of my first and most important literary experiences, and talk about how they’ve shaped the way that I write and the ways that I think about writing.
Before getting into that, I want to talk a little about my mentality when it comes to something like this. This is an activity that I often have my own students do, and I find it helpful to reflect upon the products and creators that lead you to want to be an artist. This brings me to an important concept that really changed the way that I think about engaging with art: the concept of stealing like an artist.
As much as I wish I could, I can’t take credit for this idea or its terminology. Instead, I’ve stolen it (just as I’m sure he would have hoped) from writer and blogger Austin Kleon. Kleon wrote a whole book on the subject, but the gist is that it’s important to view art within the framework of how it can be taken and applied to your own art and creative process. I’ve copied a video of Kleon below:
During a dinner with Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Ayad Akhtar, he shared a similar sentiment with me, stating that he’s less interested in what’s “good” and “bad,” and only truly interested in what relates to what he’s working on.
As an artist, it’s important to look at art as study and observation. I don’t feel bad about spending days lost in a book, or hours and hours binging the newest television drama, and you shouldn’t either! Instead, look towards this as an opportunity to harvest ideas and eventually start to make your own. This is known as seeing things “from the writer’s perspective.” This doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t enjoy art simply, as this blog implies, for the very sake of art itself (which is something that we’ll discuss in a future post), but it does mean that art becomes useful to you as an artist, and as someone who wants to understand where their ideas come from, as well as how they can best use and marry those ideas to create new, interesting, and engaging work.
So, anyway, here are some of the “chapters” or “phases” of my Creativity Autobiography! It’s just a brief overview, but hopefully this will give you all a better idea of who I am as a writer. Feel free to share some of your own influences in the comments!
The Early Years
I was born at a very young age, and pretty much immediately got started reading. A few books stick out from the others: Watership Down, Little Men, The Chocolate War, and Hatchet to name a few. I read almost exclusively what I know now to be considered “realistic fiction.” It wasn’t a particularly conscious choice (at least not on my part), but that’s the way that it was.
Reading so much realistic fiction at a young age probably did some weird stuff to me and the way I saw the world, but that’s too much to get into right now. The point is, I read a lot of stories about humans, doing very human things. So naturally, these were the issues that I concerned myself with when I started to do my own writing.
Basically Never Reading Again
And then one day, like I think a lot of people do, I just kind of…stopped. I almost never read anything, especially when I was supposed to. That’s how I went through my entire life until about my junior year of college (yeah, sorry, mom) and somehow managed to be a pretty good student.
I don’t know why this happens to people, but I suspect it has something to do with the negative connotations with reading that the American school system causes. Reading was no longer something to do for enjoyment; it became homework. And, you know…homework sucks.
But I sure as heck watched a lot of movies, and I sure as double heck played too many video games. My “Movie Snob” phase came in strong, citing The Godfather as my “favorite movie” at the ripe old age of 13 (I know). I tried to watch some classics, no matter how far above my head they flew. This, combined with a great deal of what I’ll call “Wikipedia Philosophy” lead to me being a fairly insufferable young adult, something that I’ve spent the last embarrassing decade trying to atone for.
Believe it or not, though, I still did a ton of writing. It was, in retrospect, an arrogant amount of writing to do for the little amount of reading I was actually doing, but I wrote nonetheless.
With this, I ran into a problem that I think a lot of young and young-ish writers run into, which is trying to do a lot of writing without doing a lot of reading. By not reading, you end up trying to bend the way that you experience narratives through these visual mediums (such as film, television, comic books, and video games) into the textual medium of writing (fiction, poetry, nonfiction, flash, etc.). I’m not saying this is impossible, but I am saying that I would be much farther along in the quality of my own writing if I had made the decision to read earlier and more often For some reason or another, this was not always emphasized to me until much later in my writing life.
But Reading DOESN’T Suck!
Eventually, as I hope we all do, I fell back in love with reading. I fell in love with the beautiful language of Sherman Alexie (whose recent allegations will certainly be a discussion in a future blog post), I admired the poised prose of Ta-Nehisi Coates, I was pulled through the stories of Lorrie Moore and Susan Perabo.
And that’s where I am now. I kept writing, and reading, and writing, and writing. I decided that what I could make was more important than anything else about me, and I buckled down and went to work.
So, if there’s anything that you should learn from this story, it’s that it’s never too late to get back into the things that you love. There’s no better way to be an artist than to immerse yourself in those things, to make them a part of your everyday life in each and every way that you can.
I’d love to see some of your artistic influences in the comments!
Thanks for reading,