Why do we write? It has become necessary to elaborate on this question and examine some of the competing and contradictory elements that constitute the writer’s call to arms. Many writers initially lower the pen to page because they are compelled to do so. A frequent answer — and perhaps the best — is that writers write because they must. Some biological urgency compels these artists to pursue their craft. Surely, though, on a more primitive level some discernible causality must exist, some observable justification for our behavior. Why do we do it, if even on a subconscious level?
Ambition = Art + Fame + Soul
In my own self-analysis, while pondering these questions over the past few months, I’ve identified three core causes that seem to provide useful, if oversimplified, framework for the high-level conversation about why writers and artists pursue their art. These are the ART-FAME-SOUL buckets. Where these buckets overlap, different types of art and artists seem to emerge, while perhaps the most complex or interesting art / artist seems to emerge when an equal balance of these three motivators propels the artist forward. Let’s have a little explanation about the enclosed visual to make some sense of this sophism, shall we?
The pure essence of the muse: Art is the activity of making something beautiful. This is the energy to create without consideration for anything except for the art itself. No compromise, only a pure pursuit of the artistic vision. This factor disregards the audience, the paycheck, the restrictions, the rules, the possibility of failure. This is the desire of Charles Strickland to paint the walls of his house in Tahiti years after he’s gone blind. This is some primitive instinct to scratch words or pictures of the wall of a cave. This is, perhaps, what children do when they draw with crayons without knowing that anyone’s watching.
(Art + Fame ~ Intellect)
If art is a form of communication, then fame must be the recognition of the artist’s message on a widespread scale. We must be careful to distinguish recognition of the artist’s message from receiving the artist’s message. Everyone’s heard of Picasso, but this is perhaps different than saying everyone understands Cubism. Nevertheless, the desire for fame is very much an important factor to consider among the reasons why we write. The belief that a writer’s message is important can very well propel that writer to work harder, to drive forward when it’s painful, and pursue the dream to its devastating finish. If the writer pursues only fame, it seems certain that the writing will suffer, that great art requires more than just the desire to communicate; it must also contain a message TO communicate in order to reach an audience.
(Fame + Soul ~ Entertainment)
Soul, here, captures a constellation of substance: emotion, energy, passion, pain, trauma, memory, misery, ecstasy, and any other experience so powerful that the Soul must find some form of expression. Think of Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking, in which she recounts year in which she lost her husband and child. The immediacy of her pain, perhaps, drove her to communicate this experience. The intensity of the emotions felt by the artist require an expression of the soul, in a way, to expurgate these feelings in order to reestablish some emotional equilibrium. The soul needs balance and the experiences of life — perhaps moreso in the Artist — tip the scales of the soul so that Art is a means of leveling out one’s self, smoothing over these emotional disturbances in order to keep on living. Soul, here, is writing as therapy.
(Soul + Art ~ Emotion)
So tell us, literarians, and don’t be shy. Where do you fall on the Art-Fame-Soul Diagram? Are you like The Literary Man? A little heavy on the ART-FAME, a little light on the Soul? Or you a Walt Whitman acolyte self-publishing and screaming the scrolls of your soul to the stars? I’d argue that we should really strive to find our selves right in the center, equally balanced with a little of all three. Let us know what you think.