Word as Art

In college, I discovered that many things in life are free. Then again came the reality that a whole heck of a lot of things aren’t. Sometime during my sophomore year, I stumbled upon a delicious secret. It kept my weekend evenings regularly packed. It kept me well versed and amused at the theater. I volunteered as an usher. By signing up in advance, taking tickets and pointing paid ticketholders to their seats, I received free entry. As the lights would go down, I would find a nook at the back of the auditorium to watch the play or musical performance. Many good nights were spent in the three theaters on campus.

One evening in particular, I remember ushering with a girl we’ll call Jessica. We’re going to call her Jessica because I don’t actually remember her name. Anyways, she was studying dance at the art school on campus and in between spurts of tearing ticket stubs, we began talking philosophically about what art is. A seemingly innocuous question, ” what are you majoring in?” had taken an unexpected turn. I replied I was studying journalism and poetry. She practically snorted as she quickly responded, “that’s not art.”

For 10 minutes we discussed the fine points of writing as an art form.  Her comment had jostled me to the core. I remember it gestating in my head, distracting me during the performance. Many years later it sits there on the shelf of memories. What could have been one artist talking to another about how their art forms might inform one another ended up being a conundrum of she said, she said. Even after cited attempts of Shakespeare, Woodward and Bernstein, she was unmoved.

Right now we live in interesting times.

The visual form holds our attention so completely that many Americans don’t read. Why read a book when you can see the movie? I have enjoyed my chats with film protagonists and buffs including Sandra and Xavier. I see the visual form as visual storytelling and when done well, what’s not to love. An image can transfix the viewer with such powerful appeal. It tells the viewer what to see when. Some directors show such skill with this medium that you can’t help but be wooed and thusly changed after encountering their work. I love that.

Then again, I live in a city well known for its books and authors. I remember once hearing a statistic that San Franciscans pay per capita more on booze and books than anywhere else in the country. Many people here tout themselves writers “with a book inside, waiting to get out.” And if this is the case, who will read those books?

Cue blogging. Sometimes people stumble upon a person’s blog and find themselves inexorably drawn into the story being told, whether it’s food recipes with photographs that make readers want to lick the screen or whatever appeals to their personal tastes and whims. We live in an age where newspapers are increasingly going from print to online and where books can be printed by the author for a price without having to shop them around to mainstream publishers as the only avenue.

Interesting times indeed.

Several years ago, I developed a fun ritual with my then-roommate Mindy of Tuesday nights as poetry night. See, I knew if she got a taste of it, she might be interested in bigger bites. It didn’t hurt that I scratched her back as we read Billy Corgan, Coleridge and Strand. Night after night, I could count on the television being on, but Tuesday nights, we set aside time for reading poetry aloud. She still mentions how much she loved poetry night.

The need for people to tell their stories is intrinsic and really one of the primary reasons I pursued journalism in the first place. We want details, an insider’s perspective, the close-up shot. If a picture is worth a thousand words, perhaps that says more about the quality of the words used. I for one, am a fan of film, but as with that conversation with Jessica so many years ago, am interested in how film can inspire or inform writing. I love the idea of conversation between art forms. And I believe in the power of the word.

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