Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Memoir: Lessons about Art and Beauty

Birds.png image by kingcelf

This week my head is swirling with stimulating comments readers have sent about art and writing. 

On Monday, Ingrid at Fashion is My Muse added food for thought when she wrote about art and beauty.  She said contemporary artists are pressured to create work that provokes reactions, even if that means foregoing beauty in their art.

I’ve been thinking about this all week.  And it’s bringing me around to Material. 

About three weeks ago I posted a story about my marriage to a military aviator.  It was my sixteenth wedding anniversary.  In it, I related that a writing instructor once told me that this military-wife experience was “my Material.”  What does this have to do with art and beauty? 

This instructor was an author/poet from a private American college.  He was my teacher at a workshop in Bloomington, Indiana, the summer my daughter was two, when my family and I still lived on an Air Force base.  When he said that about my Material, he was referring to a story by me that I’d worked on all week. 

Not surprisingly, the story was about an woman married to an honorable, yet slightly naive, U.S. Air Force pilot.  She’s not happy about the military life; she feels victimized.  He feels guilty. 

birds.jpg birds image by blueberry_yumyum88

Cleverly, I made “Abby” a “photographer” instead of a “writer” to conceal my identity.  I named him “Peter” to conceal my husband’s.  I’m sure I fooled no one.   

The story recounts a true incident in which my husband helped a sick pilot from a former Soviet block country.  It’s called “Containment,” and there is much, you know, symbolism about the Cold War, and all that is getting contained in the lives of the characters. 

On that balmy summer evening at the workshop, I felt pleased that my instructor thought I had material.  It’s possible that he encouraged me to pursue it because it would be therapeutic.  But it’s also possible—and I think likely—that he felt the Material could provoke reactions.  As in, “you should write this because a lot of people in America would like criticism of the military from inside the military.”          

My writing group agreed with the instructor.  My family members agreed.  Even “Peter” encouraged me.  This story is the “best” one I’ve written.     

But today I have problems with this story.  It came from a place that I now feel is not authentic.  At some level—certainly not conscious at the time—I knew the subject matter might provoke a response and earn me some approval I craved.  I sort of hijacked my own experience and that of my husband, in a way I don’t care to repeat.  Maybe that’s a part of “art,” too; I don’t know.       

A couple of years ago, when anti-war sentiment in the U.S. was especially high, I finally submitted the story for publication, by way of entering a national fiction contest.  It was a finalist.  Had I won the contest, of course I’d have been thrilled.  But now I don’t care about publishing that story.  It does not reflect my life today.  It’s done its work for me, and I’ve done my work for it.   

birds.jpg birds image by meghanelaine09

Thank you, readers and bloggers, for your thoughtful insights this week about art, writing, and what makes an artist. 


Protege said...

I have always felt that my life consist of different sub-parts, if one can say so. It is like I have already lived different lives, being a different person with different views and experiences in each. I think I can refer to what you say about the story not reflecting your life today.
Still, it is a part of who you are and considering it received so much appreciation, it was probably very good. Most likely as it reflected a profound part of your life, which you however do not like to revisit. I recognize that too.
I sure would love to read it one day.;)
A great contemplative post.

La Belette Rouge said...

You got me thinking. I don't consciously think about beauty or even much about creating a reaction when I write. I do think about some kind of change occurring. The more you got me thinking about it the more I think art is like that Buddhist parable about the blind men and the elephant, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_Men_and_an_Elephant
Art is not one thing. Art is many things and will not be confined to a single definition.

So, people do not have to change in a story for it to be art. Blaming and being in a victim place can be art. Art doesn't have to be enlightene or pretty. Does it? I hope not.

Ms. Lucy said...

Thanks SallyMandy. I think that often we create from where we are at that moment. That in itself provokes sentiments in others that may not even resemble our own. So, yes things that don't even begin with 'a cause' are often perceived or interpreted that way. I can understand your detachment from your piece-now- but it does have a significant place in your art, self discovery and life journey:) thanks for sharing this.

Lola said...

Creating, writing, expressing. Each prolific artistic moment has its own time and flow. You wrote something in a special time of your life, and now you have mixed feelings about it.

But just think how much you discovered of yourself, writing it. How much it healed the pain. And how forceful the urge to put it black on white.

You have matured, but more "material" is still there, waiting to be released. That piece may have been the seed, so you should be emotionally grateful for it.

I for one would be honored to read your first steps in the writing journey that has taken you this far.
It must be fascinating to learn you through your (covert) memoir.

I admire you.

sallymandy said...

Thank you, Protege. Maybe as we get older, we just add to these parts of our lives. You've shared so many interesting and diverse facets of your life in your blog, that what you're saying here makes sense.

Belette: I love the story about the blind men and the elephant. In fact, it illustrates how my thinking about my husband's military service changed over time. I don't presume to have a definition of art, and I apolotize if I came across as judgmental in my post. I was judging my own story--not anyone else's work. My understanding, even of my own motives, is evolving.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Ms Lucy: wise words. I suppose when we put something out there in the world, we have no idea how others will respond. We might "provoke" without meaning to; or someone might find "beauty" in a very unexpected place. I hadn't thought of it that way.

lakeviewer said...

All stories are produced in time and space. You may not think your story has the same relevance as it did when you first wrote it. But, didn't it represent truthful events and sentiments? Then, it is still valuable.

La Belette Rouge said...

I love your exploration of the topic and how it makes me question my own sense of art. I love how you really get me thinking. Thank you!!!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Wonderful blog.
Why haven't I been here before???
I shall return!

sallymandy said...

Lola: You've given me a lot more to think about here. I wrote down some of what you said and it's going on the wall by my desk--the part about the prolific artistic moments. I love that! Here's to more of those for all of us who want them!

Lakeviewer: Yes, it did represent where I was at that time--including a real need to be validated by a certain group of people. I'm not happy with that tendency, and that's part of my dislike of the story--but yes, even that self knowledge is valuable. Thank you for this insight.

Belette: Well, you're welcome and please let me express how much I'VE been made to think from all the feedback I've gotten. I almost can't do my "real" work. !!

Hi Pamela: Thank you! I think you have been here before. But please do return. And hug that big doggy.

drollgirl said...

this may be a dumb idea/suggestion, but i wonder what would happen if you re-wrote it? it is funny how our motivations/perspectives change with time, and it might be interesting to compare the two.

Maria Killam said...

Interesting conversation. Thanks for sharing.

aims said...

You've touched my mind and soul with this.

I believe I know what you are saying and I leave this comment as I go onward thinking about what you have said.

I think art and creativity come from some fracture within us.

Lorna said...

Bravo, Sallymandy. (Yah, I know that Italians would say BRAVA, but that makes me feel pretentious. :-)

I like the way that you understand your motives and those of people around you. You think for yourself. I really really like that.


Lorna said...

I wanted to read that story and clicked the link... only to find that the page was gone. 8-(