When you think of the phrase Support the Arts, what immediately comes to mind? If you’re like most people, you think musicians and artists, painters and sculptors—people whose talent serves as a colorful background to your cultural environment but whose name you may not even know. Add to that a local flavor in your community, where you may know a neighborhood artist by sight, but not realize the hours he or she spends practicing their craft in a garage, or creating those marvelous masterpieces that now decorate your hallway.
In this era of electronic books and overwhelming verbiage on the Internet, where exactly do literary artists fit in? And how did they get forgotten in today’s Support the Arts message?
Libraries and bookstores used to be the sole repositories of great writers’ works. A hundred years ago, books were still considered rare, valuable and precious, meant to be cared for and handed down to future generations, both for their knowledge and for their art form.
Fast forward to a post-Napster economy, where the younger generation demands (read: expects) anything digital to be free—without a care to how the creator of that content should be recognized, rewarded, or supported.
Or zoom into the Amazon-dominated book-selling experience, where the concept of meeting the author and getting a signed copy of the book is nigh impossible to achieve. Or drop in on the numerous communities of closed libraries, limited budgets, and media centers, where the belief that worthwhile information must be on a web page or app lest it go stale; no need to carefully bind, print and make available an actual book for weeks of borrowing, for the simple intent to learn, savor, and enjoy.
Here in Silicon Valley, where so many people interact virtually and globally, it is difficult for a local literary artist to connect with the community.
Certainly, musicians and stage performers still hold concerts and shows. Photographers, painters, and sculptors are invited to display their wares at exhibition halls and museums. But where exactly can a writer connect with the audience except through the written word? Yes, there are open-microphone events and “flash reading” nights, where mere snippets of a work can be heard. But these are most appropriate for poets and works-in-progress. With the demise of bookstores and libraries (who used to be the staunchest supporters of books as important additions to the cultural arts and to the sharing of ideas), how does anyone expect the continuing stream of quality fiction to keep flowing, rather than dry up into a trickle of mediocrity, feeding the “snippet mentality,” and relegated to fleeting relevance?
I have challenged a number of organizations whose charter is Support the Arts, to do just that—think long and hard about how to better support literary artists— writers, with similar dedication in terms of publicity, venues, competitions, and grants as other artists. Time will tell if they heed the call.
In the meantime, it’s clear the days of simply relying on traditional methods for authors to connect with their audience has, for the most part, gone by the wayside. The commoditization of the literary form has taken it’s toll on literary art and literary artists.
How short-sighted of us to forget that novels demand a long time commitment, an immersion into another world, and different points of view? Perhaps we as a society have created such short attention spans that we have lost respect—or merely forgotten—the people behind the ideas, behind the entertainment, and behind the healthy challenge to the status quo.
If we are not careful, and do not reach out now to support the medium best-suited to capture and pass onto future generations our literary legacy, we will lose the soul of our civilization.
We will lose perspective of this point in time in our history: this generation’s passions—this peek into our troubles and our suggested solutions—through the imagination of our fellow citizens. No. We, as a society, should do all we can to Support the Arts, especially the Literary Artists, to ensure our legacy thrives.
(This article originally appeared on Balcony 7 Media & Publishing’s SaucyJaw.com)