Authors v. artists, books v. art…similarities & notable differences

Art and writing….are they alike?

This past Friday I attended the “First Friday Art Walk” in Springfield, Missouri, a monthly event in which local galleries hold an open house and feature the works of local artists. You can drink wine, see the works and meet the artists.

Probably most people would agree that both writing and art are creative. With inspiration and imagination, authors and artists create something out of nothing. We are inventors, we are fabricators. We turn an idea, thought into something to be enjoyed by others.

Artist Mary Hamilton titled this piece Man: Grafted. It looks like a cyborg to me! The medium is acrylic, graphite & found objects. Price: $1,200.

Art and literature seek to communicate the creator’s vision. However,  the way the media communicate is different.

Art is visual. You see exactly what the artist sees  – a painting, a drawing, a sculpture, a piece of pottery, but despite its concrete, physical form, the message of the medium is open to interpretation—or misinterpretation. The viewer may or may not “get” what the artist meant. Maybe he/she painted a picture of a horse because he/she likes horses. Or maybe the horse represents the artist’s father who frequently acted like an equine’s back end. You can’t know for sure, unless the artist or someone else in the know tells you.

Literature is aural, more related to hearing. It evolved from oral storytelling. Yes, you look at a word in a book, but you aren’t “seeing” a visual image. You read symbols, which when spoken, create sounds that have associated meaning in your mind. You don’t see a horse. You see H-O-R-S-E. Through symbols the author conveys how much the heroine loves to ride on the English moors. No interpretation needed. You know exactly what is meant.

I think it’s a fascinating that an artist’s physical object can have elusive meaning while communication through symbols has a decisive, concrete message  (Exception: poetry).

Another interesting aspect to art is that depending on the medium, if you sell your work you have to part with your creation. Sell an original piece of art, and you will never see it again. (This doesn’t apply to sculptures that are casted). Authors can keep their original manuscripts forever.

Original art is expensive (yes, you can buy inexpensive prints and posters). The cheapest painting from an unknown artist will set you back a couple hundred dollars, and usually when you buy original artwork you’re talking thousands. Art is not an impulse buy. Unaffordable for many people, art is a carefully thought-out investment even for those who have the money.

Books, on the other hand, are one of the cheapest forms of entertainment you can find. They are an impulse buy. A full-priced ebook is only $3-$6. A paperback is $8-$15 , and even hardcover is only $30-40. A book purchase is not going to break the bank. Most readers can afford to buy books.

Art is like furniture—once you have a houseful, you don’t need anymore. Books are like consumables. They’re like food. One you read a book, you need another one.

For that reason, it’s much easier to sell books than art, and therefore, it’s much easier to make living as a writer than an artist.

So… your thoughts? Please share.

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