An Artist’s Statement, via Autobiography, Part Two

*You ought to read “An Artist’s Statement, via Autobiography, Part One” first.

If this is an artist’s statement, then what is it that I am trying to do? The first and most important thing to understand about me is that I consider myself a writer first — an artist, not a journalist, not a teacher, although I am a writer who teaches. That last statement may seem in odd lieu of having received several awards for my work as a teacher, but I think those awards only lend credence to my belief that education is being handled all wrong. But I’ll get to that later.

I believe that writing is Everyman’s art form, but that the poor results of inadequate literacy education is the impediment to full participation in it. Literacy is the ability to receive messages, but writing is the ability to send them. Writing is the ability to respond to life with an audience that exceeds the sound of one’s own voice. Even though current modes of composition involve computers and digital media, writing and its usage are not limited by technology, the ways that music and film are. Anyone can pick up a pen and paper and write, and send it off. Sound and video recordings require technology. The recording of a person’s words only requires pen and paper. Of course, publication and are not so simple when the media is handwriting, but that doesn’t change the facts of recording.

This week, I was talking with a former student who was asking what I thought about ethnography, and in the course of the conversation, I explained to her that she had to remember that I am a writer mainly. While I am interested in history, sociology, and ethnography, I have no interest in being objective. I filter my perceptions through my own personality, through my own ideas, and I do that without any remorse at all. I told her that is why I like Hunter S. Thompson or Truman Capote or The New Yorker – because I want the story filtered through the writer to get to me. I don’t want stale portrayals of “just the facts, ma’am.” I reminded her that, while I may write some journalism pieces, I am not a journalist. Nor am I a historian, though I often deal in history.

I teach both my creative writing students and my English 12 students that a work of literature should tell us something of what it means to be human. Human beings aren’t objective or unbiased, and their essence can’t be captured by statistics or polls. Those things can be very useful, but are still inadequate for making final conclusions. You can’t know who someone really is by giving them a survey, because many of them will guard their true feelings or even lie, but a person’s life, their story, doesn’t lie. What a person really is, what he really wants or believes, will come out in his actions, in his statements, in his life. And that is what I love about literature, and it why I am a writer first.

[more in the next entry, “An Artist’s Statement, via Autobiography, Part Three”]

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