Technique vs Art

I was watching an episode of my favorite cooking show last night, Chopped, when I discovered the competition was forming itself into the classic battle between flawless technique and pure authenticity. I had this discussion before after I saw the movie Black Swan, so this seems to be a recurring theme for me.

There was the young but eager guy fresh from culinary school who made everything he put on the plate look like something out of MoMA, and his opponent was Mr. Meat and Potatoes, an executive chef at a steakhouse who had been in the business for thirty years, but didn't have much formal training.

While both chefs had obvious talent, they both had their flaws. The Meat and Potatoes guy wasn't the most creative, and his dishes lacked a certain flair and unity that a more trained chef would be able to accomplish. And the super artsy chef, while making some really bold and creative choices, was putting otherwise bland and insipid tasting food on the plate.

Can anyone guess who won?

It was the steakhouse guy. While his food was not very elegant, the judges enjoyed eating it more. The artsy chef was producing food fit for magazine covers, but none of his heart or soul really went onto the plate. It was entirely cerebral, and the guy knew it. I think it's something a lot of would-be artists (self included) struggle with.

And that's where the metaphor for writing (or any other art) comes into play. If you're so consumed by looking perfect and following technique to the letter, I can guarantee your writing will have no soul. It'll be boring and no one will remember it. People read to be emotionally moved, and sterile writing will never accomplish that. As far as I'm concerned, real beauty comes out through people's flaws. It's what makes them unique and gives them a flavor no one else has. This isn't to say technique isn't important, but what separates a technician from an artist is that the artist has the sense and the intuition to know that technique should never get in the way of authentic expression.

Don't be afraid to get yourself a little dirty. If your sentence demands an adverb now and then (especially because it meshes well with the persona of your narrator, or because you can think of no better way to express that precise feeling in that moment of your character's life) fucking use it. Sometimes, when you scrub your work of every potential "flaw," you're robbing the readers of your voice.

But most importantly, people would rather read, eat, or view art that isn't produced by automatons. As for those who read for a living (editors, agents), they can tell the difference between a lazy, unskilled writer and a one who is in enough control of the craft to commit a few "sins" while still getting the job done.

It's a tough balancing act, but I think the most important thing any writer can do is to get the hell out of his/her own head and just let the work (and themselves) breathe.

1 comment:

  1. Ahhh. Thanks Allie. I need to be reminded of this truth right now in my writing.