I have been doing a great deal of thinking and researching about making art lately. In fact, I have done a lot more thinking about making art than actually making art. Which is a trap I occasionally fall into.
I was particularly thinking about that advice often given to writers, to “write what you know.” This isn’t completely terrible. But, we also hear, “don’t write what you know because what you know is boring. Instead, write what you would want to read.” This is also not without merit (I come down more on this side of things). The thing is, I feel both lines of thought really downplay the purpose and potential of art, particularly writing as art. They take the imagination and ambition of the writer at face value, which is kind of insulting to both the artist and to the art itself.
I love the Brecht quote, “Art is not a mirror held up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it.” This simple statement totally conveys the awesome power of art so well. Art is not, as is commonly advised, meant to be a mere reflection of life as it is or as it was. Art is not even meant to attempt predictions at what the future is likely to hold. Instead, art is a bad-ass, hella-damn hammer, an instrument meant to shatter our limitations, to imagine that which has never before been imagined, to build the world we want, to lift us up to greater heights of humanity than we have ever known before.
Art as a hammer, is art worthy of the name. That is the type of art we should all aspire to create. Even if we fail, if we totally miss the mark, our lives will be better for the attempt. I must continually remind myself to keep in mind the hammer as I move forward in bashing into the world whatever it is I am compelled to create.