Of all the emails and queries I've gotten in response to the Roger Ebert blog post, the titular question raised is probably the most interesting. Thankfully, Ebert's fans, when emailing me, have been significantly less troll-like than the fans of other blogs (especially political ones), but some of the questions, as I've addressed in a few earlier posts, are still so mind-numbingly banal.
I mean, the things I write of simply are not that controversial if one really cogitates on them with logic. They are not only correct, but manifestly so. One of the canards I always seem to have to debunk is the claim that all art is political. This is so silly, of course, and I often rebut by simply telling the claimants to substitute the phrase 'about poodles' for the word 'art,' and one will see that the logic (or illogic) of the statement is not affected in the least.
All art is about poodles. To claim that all art is not about poodles is to say that one does not live and converse in a world with poodles. To claim that art is not about poodles is merely to demonstrate how little one is willing to talk about poodles and their relevance to the everyday world. All art has to be about poodles. And on and on. Art, of course, comes from the same root word as artifice is based upon: the Latin ars. Art is about a fake thing (unreal) conveying some information about real things.
Art is not only not about politics; although individual works of art can be, as long as the art in the art is not overwhelmed by the politics (or religion, philosophy, etc.), but art is also not truth. It can contain or reveal truths, but art is fundamentally a lie. It CANNOT be truth, no more than darkness can be light, although darkness, as film shows, can craft and define light.
But, back to the simple query one lone emailer sent me- with no real name attached. The query might have meant why do I run the website, why do I write essays or criticism, or why do I create art? Or all of that and more. Simply, because I can. I have an ability to distill and transfer wisdom that most people cannot get into things that are digestible.
Here is what art is: communication, and at its highest level. Art is a verb, first, then a noun. A work of art, a film, as example, may have a political or religious or philosophic message, but its art is in how it sends the message. Bad philosophy can come in great art, and great philosophy can be kyboshed in bad art. Modern multicultural PC often is a good idea mangled in bad art. Great art, even if transferring a bad idea, helps illumine the cosmos and the self.
And, as someone capable of producing great art, why would I demur dispensing that to others? Also, as one capable of helping others understand others' great art, why would I not want to do that? If this is not passion, what is?
And while greatness, in life or the arts, certainly has some subjectivity, there are objective things. Subjectivity, to exist, must be total. One objective fact objectifies all around it for everything then can be measured and/or parallaxed against that one objective fact. But, an objective universe, as the one we inhabit, has plenty of room for subjectivity. I can and have shown why certain works of art are objectively great or bad, but never have I precluded anyone (myself included) from liking a bad work of art. Why would I? When I grade a poem or any other artwork, there is a degree of argumentation between it and a similarly graded work. But, simply put, a poorly wrought and trite limerick is not the equal of a great sonnet by me, Wordsworth, or Rilke. Subjectivity and objectivity are not mutually exclusive. They inform each other. But, recognize their realities, do not obfuscate them. I am not a woman, not an Eskimo, not a lesbian, not a Jew, not an elephant. These are not subjective statements.
But here is one, and one that is in no way empirical, even though I have many years of anecdoture to back it up: in the arts, at least, greatness can be said to be measured by the amount of positive feeling, thought, and effort that is outgo vs. the amount of ego gratification the artist receives as income. In other words, there is nothing wrong with having an ego. Reggie Jackson, the Hall of Fame baseball player, noted for being clutch in the Word Series, once said, 'It ain't bragging if you can back it up.' I agree. False modesty is deceit, and this nation grows fat on deceit, in thousands of daily ways. If I say I'm a great poet, critic, writer, artist, and can back it up, there is no problem. I'm not claiming to look like Brad Pitt nor play baseball like Alex Rodriguez.
But, eventually, although all artists are separate entities from their work (which is why artist bios are so contradictory to the works of many artists), the artist, once dead, becomes the art. All of Beethoven's, Mozart's, Bach's, or Gershwin's music is not referred to as whatever specific Concerto in F Minor (Andante) it might be. No, it's simply Bach. Shakespeare refers not to the man rotting under Avon (and yes, it was not Edward de Vere nor Kit Marlowe), but the great quotable lines of poetry and plays. And, Picasso or Goya or Rembrandt are the paintings first, then the dead dudes who painted them.
All artists want to affect the world, even after they have become their art. It is the closest humanity has yet to come to immortality, and it sure is a hell of alot better than mere mundane existence (despite Woody Allen's dissents). Of course, the effects should be positive. A negative review I write of a bad film or poem or book is a good thing, because it will help people save time, effort, and resources they would otherwise waste, on something not deserving of them because it does not give out more than it sucks in.
As for ego? All artists- good, bad, great- have egos, as do all humans. The real question is does one's ego fit one's talents and accomplishments. Reggie Jackson's did. So do mine. But, for most people the answer is a resounding no, even a laughable no.
But, the work is more important than the creator. If my poems, reviews, stories, novels, memoirs, plays, etc. are going to be read centuries and eons from now, and become part of the communal property that mankind gifts to the other sentient civilizations of the cosmos, is my name really important? Is Sir Gawain And The Green Knight a less important early Anglo poem because its author is anonymous? Of course not. Will my great The Twin Towers Canon or Siamese Reflection be lessened an iota if the name attributed to it is Xia-wan Ho, Lawrence Edelman, or Tanya McNeill, rather than Dan Schneider?
Yes, one reading a bio of me, or my memoirs, may think they see a connection that is illuminated, and may be correct, in a small way (although bios just as often masque and confuse artistic matters as illuminate them). But the great works stand by themselves, divorced from me, perfect children of the sort no other living human being can sire.
So, in short, that is why I do it (specifically and generically).