Art Killing Creativity
I agree with Douglas Adams in this interview, the idea of art kills creativity. Anyone who believes, before putting their pen to paper or fingers to keys, that they have created a masterpiece is likely wasting time. This is not to say that people will not buy it, because this person won a Nobel Prize and there must be something to them, but they are not creating their best work because they labor under this burden of artfulness.
This issue was most recently brought to mind by Jose Saramago's novel Blindness. I want to believe that it is the fault of the translation, but only so much can be blamed on quips being untranslatable. Saramago seems to have disappeared up in own ass (translate that!), eschewing grammar and punctuation because it is easier to hide weakness beneath pretense. Were these inhumanly run-on sentences done intentionally to convey the confusion of being blind, that would be one thing, but he is known for this convolution. While this novel is supposed to be allegorical, that seems to be an excuse for rambling and unrealistic dialogue so we cannot help but be suffocated by the Moral. Saramago also focuses most of his literary attention on describing gang rape and feces. Especially feces. Saramago believes that losing a sense causes people to promptly defecate prolifically and without regard. I believe people in Auschwitz and Dachau might disagree with an instantaneous breakdown of civility. Despite this being Saramago's central thesis, people cling to their humanity as long as they can and certainly don't take to befouling their beds within days of being incarcerated, even if they lack sight. The Stanford Prison Experiment sadly proves that.
There are parts of this book that are patronizingly unoriginal, such as the protagonists encountering a kindly writer squatting (likely in more than once sense given Saramago's coprophilia) in an apartment, who then writes the book we read. It has been done and better.
It seems plain to me that Saramago believed from the first jot that this was a work of staggering genius, yet there is nothing original or inspired in it (In fact, he seems to have cribbed liberally from Camus's The Plague.) In this Blindness, he rode the wave of his fame and apparently eschewed editing. I grasp this is supposed to be stream-of-conscious, but it comes out as first draft, the only refinement again being the feces and rape.
I do not know if Hemingway or Nabokov believed they were making art, though there can be little doubt they did end up doing just that. They believed in what they wrote and put forth their best. However, I very much doubt either were the sort to let the idea of art supersede the act of creation.
Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier is another book that I felt got bogged down by its author's attempts at cleverness. What could have been a startlingly beautiful short story (I cried during the initial chapter, which had originally been a short story) instead became a bludgeoning force of "DID YOU SEE WHAT I JUST DID? AREN'T I AWESOME?" It wanted to be art instead of a story and suffered for it. I mourn this book especially because there was so much potential wasted in trying to make it as Literary as possible rather than the best book it could be. It insists upon people appreciating it, so I want to defy it.
When novels began their cultural genesis, they were disreputable. It was not considered an artform any more than comic books were in the 1950s, which affords one a freedom that is absent when people talk about things like The Great American Novel. There is a pressure to conform, to write about the Holocaust or 9/11 as shorthand for creating your own emotional weight, to write in French when you only studied it for a few years in high school, to reference A Remembrance of Things Past when you have barely slogged through Swann's Way, to be pretentious to be noticed. The great revolutions in any art form only come when one is allowed liberated creativity, when one is not afraid to take real chances because one cares more about the work than how it will be perceived. Whether something is art can be decided by the public later. Art is not for the creator to decide, if they are anything but desperately insecure.