Writing is 99% Patience & Receptivity

I wonder how many of you out there keep asking some form of the same question I’ve been asking myself since October 7th, and that is: Why does art matter? I’ve been asking many other questions about humanity, war, and peace too, but–I asked myself why art matters after Donald Trump was elected president; I asked myself this during the most acute phase of the Coronavirus pandemic; I asked myself this before I was born, after I died, while I was still alive. Which is to say→it’s a timeless question, if not also an irritating one. Some days, this question makes me very angry: Why should I, or any other artist, even have to answer this? Art matters because breathing matters! Other days, this question makes me grateful: I am alive at a time and in a place, and in this body with its abilities, and with these identities and their privileges, that lend me enough safety and space to even ask that question in the first place … let alone … make art.

The Guild met with authors Jeff Vandermeer and Sarah Sentilles this month, and here is what they had to say about why art matters and the importance of the writing process:

“It’s not so much the art itself that matters, but the conversations that can happen afterward.”
–Jeff Vandermeer

“Your project chooses you, and it is teaching you how to be the writer you need to be. Ninety-nine percent of writing is patience and receptivity.”–Sarah Sentilles

And here is some wisdom from George Saunders, as well:
“When things in the real world are heartbreaking and too complicated, and when the first-order reaction is to just go into a room and weep for a week, fiction has, I think, prepared us, at least a little, by giving us some training in how to abide with complexity (with unsolvable sadness, rage, or agitation)… Someone told me once that despair is the most disempowering emotion. It’s what we should avoid at all costs, because it takes away our clarity and our positivity. (To despair is to (already) lose.) So: avoiding despair can be a form of positive action. Sometimes, yes, [writing] feels like a guilty pleasure (‘Why am I making up a theme park when the world is going all to hell?’) But, in a way, it’s like, you know, eating, or bathing: it might not save the world but 1) it’s not making it worse and 2) it’s putting my heart into fighting shape, should a fight arise in which I can actually make a difference. Writing and reading are gentle actions, that create subtle tides of gentleness in an ungentle world.”

So now, you guessed it! I want to hear from as many readers as possible about why art matters, and you can tell me by quoting someone else, sharing a link, or freewriting your own response. I might even compile some responses and share then (with permission) in the New Year! Don’t miss this chance to discover what you might have to say, and even surprise yourself with an answer that really moves you. After all, if we know why we do what we do, we’re more likely to keep doing it. So, dear readers write to me in response to the following questions:

  • Why does art matter, to you?
  • And how do you know this to be true?


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