Thursday, October 13, 2011

Guest post: (What's the Story) Fiction as Art?

Today I'm delighted to host Mike French, Senior Editor of The View from Here, and author of the daringly unusual novel The Ascent of Isaac Steward, with a guest post continuing yesterday's theme of innovation versus convention.

(What's the Story) Fiction as Art?

 “Works of art often tell stories. Artists can present narrative in many ways—by using a series of images representing moments in a story, or by selecting a central moment to stand for the whole story.  These lessons will build students' awareness of how stories can be told visually and how artists use color, line, gesture, composition, and symbolism to tell a story. Students will interpret and create narratives based upon a work of art and apply what they have learned to create works of art that tell a story.”   The J. Paul Getty Museum 


People are usually happy with the concept of a painting telling a story that can be interrupted in a number of ways and accept that a quick glance isn’t enough – you have to stand in front of it for a while whilst you personalise the meaning.  So why then do we struggle when a novel works in the same way, when the writer uses words to paint images directly into a reader’s head to tell a story in a way that needs time to sit within their mind?

You can fall in love with a piece of music even if you don’t fully understand the lyrics – and again this seems acceptable, yet again when fiction does the same often people are left floundering, not sure what to think unless they understand everything. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to a song that picked me out of my day in wonder and then thought …. Nar, nice tune and it jump started my emotions but I don’t understand all the lines, so no.  Even Oasis’ massively successful album (What’s the story) Morning Glory? had fans arguing over if that meant a nice sunny day in Manchester or morning erections.

Poetry doesn’t seem to encounter this thirst for instant recognition and complete comprehension. So I’m left puzzling, what’s the story with fiction as art?

I wonder if our western mindset demanding everything make sense on an intellectual level twinned with our pace of life means we have little patience for things that require time to appreciate. We read in bed in snatches when we’re tired, we read on the train. We read in the spaces in our lives and therefore we require a quick injection, a brief escape from reality and when we do have time to unwind we switch on the TV. 

So what’s the solution for writers when their fiction aspires to be art? I think for me it’s not worrying about it. People change, cultures change and if we pander to the culture we find ourselves in, then how do we effectively communicate to it in a way that helps brings about that change?  Today’s challenge being demonstrating beauty and the frailty of humanity in a way that doesn’t wrap itself up as a two minute pop noodle cash cow.

And fiction I think suffers more than other art forms in this respect. Poems tend to be short, songs ask only for a few minutes of your time, even a painting feels quite good about itself if you spend five minutes in front of it.  But o the novel. Maybe your days are numbered and in a hundred years’ time the relation between short stories and novels will flip with the publishers.  A novel you say?  Well there’s little appetite for novels, short stories are where the money is, easily digested on your Kindle.  But a novel, nobody reads novels these days.

Maybe we need art galleries with books in.  Set the ambience, where time slows down and you allow yourself time to read without feeling guilty that you should be doing something else.  O yes they’re called libraries aren’t they – are there any left?

Mike is the owner and senior editor of The View From Here literary magazine, he also enjoys painting, watching Formula 1, eating Ben & Jerry's icecream and listening to Noah and the Whale. His second novel, Blue Friday is now completed and he is starting work on his third novel. For the last ten years Mike has been a “home dad” after giving up his job in optical engineering to look after the kids full time – much of his first novel,  The Ascent of Isaac Steward was written during their afternoon naps!
 The Ascent of Isaac Steward is available at Amazon. 
Visit Mike's Blog.
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