Artist or Craftsman?

By: Dennis Bates

I think I’ve finally figured it out. Sometimes it just takes me awhile, especially when I am so convinced that I am right. That happens often, just so you know. Like the old saying goes, “I thought I was wrong once, but I wasn’t. I was mistaken.”

For several years now I have had this totally unrequited love affair with a Christian fiction writing group. And at times it hurt. I felt so unloved, so unappreciated, so misunderstood. After all, that is the definition of unrequited love: one sided.

I learned a lot of things, and I met some wonderful people in cyberspace, but I got no respect. You know what I mean? I wasn’t a total newbie to writing. I wrote a column for a newspaper in a former life, and a lot of other things that just sound like bragging at this point. So I won’t brag. It’s unseemly to say the least. But to be honest, I just didn’t get it. I just wanted to contribute, bounce ideas off fellow writers and have all of us grow from the experience.

It’s called the Socratic method. Blame it on law school if you have to blame it on somebody. It’s how I was trained; okay, and I’m actually fairly proficient at it, but there’s that bragging thing again, so I’ll stop.

At any rate, I shot right to the top of the persona non grata list on this writer’s loop  for all kinds of reasons, most of which I still find to be petty, and that’s the nice way of putting it. But gradually, I pulled in my horns and basically confined my responses to individuals rather than the entire group. You don’t get monitored and censored that way.

I was amazed at how many people agreed with me privately, even though most of them never said so in the public forum. I’m actually used to that; it’s kind of the story of my life. A lot of people appreciate someone who says out loud what they wish they had the nerve to say themselves. I just never had the good sense not to. My bad.

And then it dawned on me. The group I wanted to discuss good writing with, had a totally different concept of what that was. The powers that be there, for the most part, equated good writing with getting published. I did not. I still have this totally naïve notion that good writing is something that will stand the test of time, that enjoys a turn of a phrase, and appreciates the art in writing.

Most of the people I argued with were more interested in the craft of writing, not the artistry of it, and I don’t mean that to be the slightest bit demeaning. It’s an age old debate. Do we create something so we can sell it, or for the sheer artistry of creating it? There is no right or wrong answer when it comes down to it. The answer is “yes” to both questions.

Writing is for some people a means to make a living, even if it’s not a very good one in most cases. Writing isn’t worth much unless it makes money, and to make money you have to write something that will sell. These are the craftsmen, and there is nothing wrong with them. They know their trade and many become quite good at it. That is to be admired and emulated by all those who want that.

There are others, however, who want to create art, and that doesn’t mean they are better or superior in any way. Just different. Money and sales are fine with them, but they don’t’ write for that reason. They write because they can’t and don’t want to do anything else. They too are worthy of respect and emulation.

The problem comes when either side tries to convince the other that their way is the only way. It isn’t. Both need to be recognized, and arguing about which is better is pointless. The goal for both sides is to write. Simply write.

Christianity isn’t all that different. There is one, and only one goal, and that’s to know Jesus Christ and love him forever. He died so that we might live, and if we believe that then no matter how we get there, we are right. Theologians, ministers and priests may be the artists; the rest of us may be the craftsmen.

All of us need to seek the goal, using the path we are given. That’s why I finally get it. There is no point arguing art with a craftsmen. We just need to remember we are both headed toward the same goal and accept each other.

That’s all there is to it.


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