Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Artist Dilemma

Zhou Mi Mi’s Chinese novel “Wen Qu Pu” is cleverly built around the vicissitudes of a group of mainland artists living in Hong Kong. In this haven of quick money, where superficiality is efficiency, a fine painter works as a stagehand, poets become bums, getting stuck in self-romanticised chaos, writers mass produce fatuous scripts for local TVs. One woman writer even prostituted physically to keep food on the table, but never stopped writing. 

It’s a small circle. They all know each other, getting into each other’s way competing, loving, hurting, caring, despising and helping.

Artists’ struggles are touching because they are driven by passion, and perpetually haunted by a professional self-doubt and insecurity. After having dedicated years of their lives to practising music or dancing or painting or writing stories, desperate artists are vulnerable to unscrupulous agents, producers, publishers or employers. An artist’s strive for excellence is against severe odds. In the end, he depends on the judgement of those who may not have nominal appreciation for their hard work and talents.

The dilemma is that most artists need an audience, but are forever exasperated by how little anyone knows “true art”. However, if there were a sudden enlightenment en masse in his art, he would become a craftsman. Of course he could move on to a higher plane or different artistic dimension. But if he does, and succeeds, he would again leave his audience behind, and relapse into grumbling about nobody knowing anything about his art. 

Beauty cannot exist without vulgarity. Similarly, wisdom and vision are meaningless without a critical mass of stupid people.

Art is not alone in being ruled by the “tyranny of the Average” though. Being exceptional in any area unfortunately means being surrounded by mediocrity, getting irritated like a fish which hates to be wet.


Laura Besley said...

Interesting review!

James Tam 谭炳昌 said...

Thanks Laura!

bx said...

Do you know what I was smiling at? You wrote down that you were a writer by profession. It sounded to me like the loveliest euphemism I had ever heard. When was writing ever your profession? It’s never been anything but your religion. Never. I’m a little overexcited now. Since it is your religion, do you know what you will be asked when you die? But let me tell you first what you won’t be asked. You won’t be asked if you were working on a wonderful, moving piece of writing when you died. You won’t be asked if it was long or short, sad or funny, published or unpublished. You won’t be asked if you were in good or bad form while you were working on it. You won’t even be asked if it was the one piece of writing you would have been working on if you had known your time would be up when it was finished—I think only poor Soren K. will get asked that. I’m so sure you’ll only get asked two questions. Were most of your stars out? Were you busy writing your heart out? If only you knew how easy it would be for you to say yes to both questions.

- J.D. Salinger

bx said...

Sorry I'm not a creepo, that was me, Rebekah aka bx