I’m not going to try and rival Neil Gaiman’s speech, but I guess you could say that I’m still a little hung up on making “good art.” Maybe it’s because “good art” is one of things that is so hard to define, but so obvious once found.
Sure, there are the immediate entertaining thrills. You can throw stale bread at me for this, but I read Twilight when it first came out and was horrified by the fact that pink sunlight was trickling across my pillow as I still read it. Yeah, it was a phase. Then again, so was the “dress up like a lion and pretend to be part of Wizard of Oz” stint. The breathless (and I do mean breathless) stories sort of grab us, then pull us along in one big sweeping motion until we’re dumped back into our everyday lives wondering what the hell happened.
And they’re gone. Like a wisp of wind. No more.
No sooner than two months passed, and I was pretty much done with Twilight, angrily realizing that, no, Bella would not be attacked by a horde of vampires, and no, the series would not end with her driving a stake through Edward’s heart. Same thing with America’s Next Top Model. I’m hooked, I can’t stop, then it’s done and I do.
Then it, too, fades.
The thing with good art is that it lasts. I can spend hours in front of the TV and not remember any scrap of dialogue (which, according to NCIS, “well, you know Gibbs…” is a good filler, though it only hedges actual character development). Then, there are the shows I do watch that tingle the spine in ways it didn’t know it could tingle. It sticks. Good art sticks around, lodging itself into our brains, making us wake up the next day and the next still mulling it over, or wondering what it could mean.
I don’t mull over bad art (unless it’s so bad I can’t stop trying to convey it to others). I don’t stare out of my window, thinking “what if?” after watching another fast-talking police drama. It’s when I read something that truly challenges the way I look at the world, or saw a well-crafted television show like Dr. Who, or listened to Rimsky-Korsakov that the world cracks open and invites me to jump in. Good art does this. And the best part is, I can never tell how.
For me, it’s like a brownie: you can really mess it up if you want to. You can even drug it up if that will get people to eat it. Sometimes all we want is a regular brownie, that’s all. But it’s the truly talented cooks who know how to take a regular-old brownie and make it the most special thing you’ve ever tasted. Maybe they just know the right order to cook it. Maybe they add a hint of spice. All you know is that, what you’re eating is by all rights “just a brownie,” but it’s more “just a brownie” than anyone else has ever made. A brownie is nothing new, it’s a dessert that’s been made before, and yet no one can make it the same way. A really good brownie is one that seems familiar, but different enough that every bite is like seeing the world new.
That’s what good art is like: the thing you think is average that changes your life without trying.
Of course, the “not trying”: is up for debate. Any artists out there can tell me how much they try (I’m with you!) and we’ll come out knowing that it takes lots of work to look like you’re not working. But all of it is worth it because good art is always worth it.
The real trick is the actual making of it, since it is all too easy to make bad art. And that, I think, is something that takes an entire life of effort to do. But, as Neil Gaiman suggested in his speech, isn’t that a life worth living?