Thursday, April 29, 2010

Art vs. Craft

This past weekend, I attended a woodcut class at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, in Amherst Mass.  Part of the course included tickets to a joint presentation by Barry Moser--If you haven't seen any of his engraved illustrations, image search him--and Caldecott Medalist, Mary Azarian.  While the course itself was fun and fascinating, the presentation by these two illustrators was spectacular.

The talks began with a brief biography of each artist and then focused on their methods.  Needless to say both are experts in their field.  But what really peaked the audience's interest--and mine in particular--was the question and answer session...and something Barry Moser said.

"I do not consider myself an artist.  This is a craft."

He went on to explain the distinction he made between the two.  In essence, a craft is the physical act of creating...whether it be painting, drawing, sculpting, or wood carving, the physical act that produces the product is a craft.  It only becomes "art" when a maker makes use of his craft to produce a something that transcends the work that went into its production.  This is an important distinction from the modern idea of art which is so prevalent now-a-days, which sees "art" as something created by an artist and "artist" as one who creates art.  With this modern definition there is no need to become proficient in your craft because it will be seen as art regardless and a person need only say they are an "artist" in order to create "art".


Barry Moser hit the nail right on the cuticle when he said we do our children a great disfavor when we unconsciously give in to this modern mockery of art.  He described art classes in which children no longer are taught the fundamentals of drawing, color, and the basics of different art forms and instead are treated to colorful crowd control.  They are told that having fun is all that really matters in art, and self expression is the single quality that makes an artist while the mastering of a craft is optional.

Imagine if Vivaldi decided to let his "inner self" decide what notes to put down without first learning the fundamentals of music theory and harmony...

Imagine if Caravaggio decided to skip learning the painter's craft and instead focused on "self expression"...

Now imagine if T.H.White, J.K.Rowling, J. M. Barrie, T.A.Barron, and other great children's book writers followed the same mindset...

And while I'm at it, what's the deal with all the double initials in their names...hmm....back to my point...

Although it is true that great picture book illustrators are suffering from the dumbing down of the publishing world, the writing area (thankfully) still seems to be holding out.  There are of course many published books which would better serve the world as cheap sofa stuffing, but fortunately children still recognize when a book has a satisfying story and is told in a way that captures their attention and imagination.


Friday, April 23, 2010

A skimpily veiled passage, laced with Freudian slips...

No, this post has nothing to do with Lingerie.  This post is in response to a critique I heard at my small critique group a few weeks ago.

"That description of your character sounds strangely sexual," quoth the critic.

"It was not supposed to be please get your head out of the gutter," said the critiqued.

Don't worry, Nobody really said that.

But this critique prompted an interesting dissection of the paragraph in question, and in the end something interesting was discovered.  While the sentences themselves didn't in anyway imply anything sexual, many of the descriptive words used--when read as a group--could create that feeling in a reader.

Subliminal writing. 

I'm sure other writers may refer to it in some other term but this is my post and I'll call it what I want to...

In a nutshell, subliminal writing is purposely using specific mood words in your writing to elicit a feeling or image.  This may sound like basic writing skills 101 but few readers ever realize this technique is being used on them.  Here's an example:

The man named Smith sliced his way through the thin crowd, cutting through the booths without ever taking his eye from the diplomat.  Smith's lips creased in a grin.  The diplomat stood precisely where he had said he would...the single point untouched by the piercing gaze of security cameras.  Smith stuck a hand into his pocket, grasping the weapon--he had to act sharp if this was going to be a clean kill...

Now, what weapon do you think Smith has? 

If you said a knife, then it is likely you've just picked up subconsciously the feeling the words were meant to make you feel.  Look at the word choice:  sliced, thin, cut, through, creased, precisely, point, piercing, stuck, sharp, clean.  All of these were chosen specifically because they leave a feeling of "knife" without ever actually say it.  In this case it may be overdone for the purpose of illustration, but still one can see the benefit of using this type of subliminal writing when used for effect.

For authors, it is especially helpful to keep this in mind in the revising stage of your writing.  Have a passage that you want to add a little more mood to?  Make a list of words that describe that feeling and see if any will help your passage.  If this doesn't help, throw in goat.

Want to read a great example?  If you haven't already, check out The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Welcome to my blog

Welcome to my blog. For all of you wondering what is meant by "Mind the goats," I will explain.

If you took all of the funniest, laugh out loud, side-splitting, stop-me-from-reading-this-I'm-going-to-die-or-pee-children's books and analyzed them so as to find out what will make your own writing more appealing to even the most jaded Twilight reader, the answer is simple:

Throw in a goat. Preferably a rabid goat.

Really, I'm serious. Almost any animal will do. Some animals are intrinsically funnier than others: aardvarks, elephants, rabid squirrels, ducks, storks, etc... but so long as they are awkward, unexpected, and literally thrown in-preferably rear first--they'll get a laugh. Simply take any passage of sappy, slow, or melodramatic writing and insert the following:

"His/Her/My life suddenly got a lot more complicated with the unexpected arrival of a rabid flying goat."

You'll be shocked at the wonderful tangents so small a line will create for you. Where did this goat come from? Was it the only one or was it the first of many? Was it thrown or did it launch of its own accord? What did he/she/or I say when the the goat landed on him/her/or me? Did it bleat or did it merely go thud? Oh...the pages and pages of sidetracks you'll find yourself wandering merrily in... You'll also find it's especially effective if you use this as a sort of theme throughout the rest of your book; have another dull moment? Throw in another goat! By the end of your book may even find you do not have to go through the trouble of describing each goat toss in detail...a simple "AHHH! Flying goat!" will suffice.

Don't believe me?

Let's have look...shall we?

The Swiss Family Robinson:

Fritz saw some gummy resin exuding from cracks in the bark, and it reminded him of the boyish delight afforded by collecting gum from cherry-trees at home, so that he must needs stop to scrape off as much as he could. He rejoined me presently, attempting to soften what he had collected in his hands; but finding it would not work like gum, he was about to fling it away, when---his life suddenly got a lot more complicated with the arrival of a rabid flying goat...

"Ahhh! Goat!"

Admit you want to find out what happens, eh? Or, let's take a look at something a little more contemporary:

Breaking Dawn:

You're the only one we could ever trust her with. If you didn't love her so much, I could never bear this. I know you can protect her Jac--AHHH! Not another flying goat!!"

I rest my case.