Monday, June 21, 2021

But is it Art?

 A good friend of mine who is correct in categorizing herself as a music artist often refers to me in the same terms (except "musical"). And I, for psychological reasons it would take months in therapy to resolve, always feel compelled to contradict her. I am not an artist.

Am I?

This is not a plea for misguided compliments, I assure you. I'll let you know when I need those. It's more an exploration of what it means to be an artist. And no matter how I define it, I pretty much come down on the answer that no, I am not. One. 

Defining art is an intellectual parlor game that's been going on since before the invention of parlors. Every person has his/her/their own definition, and they're all right. Because your personality is your filter and everything you think goes through it. If you think something is art, it is. For you.

Some people think Jerry Lewis created art. Or Tiny Tim. Or Mariano Rivera. And they're all correct. Those people looked at that work and it moved them in some way that convinced them they had seen a form of art. Go argue with them; I dare you. They'll win every time because the whole process and the whole definition is subjective. There is no formula that can definitively classify something as Art or not.

Which brings me to the silly mystery books I write. And I'm using the word "silly" here as a positive term. I like things that are silly. Monty Python was silly. Mel Brooks is silly. For that matter, Mark Twain could be silly, as could Leonardo da Vinci, the Beatles and Abraham Lincoln.

Silly is simply something that tries (and in the best cases succeeds) to find the funny side of something, whether it be an embarrassing situation, a pretentious turn of phrase or, yes, a tragedy. There's nothing that can't be silly if it's approached from the proper angle. So when I say my books are silly I'm defining their intention rather than their success in achieving that goal. That is left up to each reader to decide.

I don't trace my literary roots (and if that's not a pretentious turn of phrase dying for some silliness I don't know what is) to great art. My influences were not Ovid, Socrates, Homer, Shakespeare or even Agatha Christie. I tended to look for inspiration in places like Saturday morning cartoons (Bugs Bunny and Bullwinkle especially), the Marx Brothers (my personal religion), the work of Caesar's writers (Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and Carl Reiner among them), Alfred Hitchcock (particularly North By Northwest, among his silliest movies), George Carlin and Gene Wilder. 

And while I consider many of those people (and scores of others I didn't mention) to be artists because that was their intention, they are all undeniably entertainers first, and that is the category into which I humbly suggest I belong.

I am not an artist. I am an entertainer. And proud to be one. 

I've always loved a good story (and even some bad ones) if it's told with some style. And the idea of entertainment (books, stories, films, TV, theater, music, a bracing oration) without ANY sense of humor is anathema to me. Casablanca isn't a comedy, but it's one of the wittiest movies you're going to find anywhere and possibly the best example of a studio film ever. Silly? No. Sense of humor? You can't go five minutes in that movie without a great line. Try to watch it and not laugh. ("I'm shocked - shocked - to find that gambling is going on in here!" "Your winnings, sir." "Oh, thank you very much.")

So I bow to my friend the musical artist, because she is that. It is her intention and she's really good at it. My intention is to entertain, and that's (without saying whether I think I succeed) a noble calling. Not everyone can do it. Those who do it well are among my favorite people.

Of course, your opinion is your own. I will not argue with it.