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.


  1. Interesting. The age of words. I feel this was the start of storytelling. People around talking, telling tales. Someone wrote that down. That piece of writing inspired theatrics. And as technology evolved so did the art of telling a story. Sadly enough people still find that since storytelling evolved that they should be up to date with it. A sort of “snail mail>phone calls>email>text>social networkings” evolution. People find no use for snail mail.

    People don’t want to be involved all the time. They would rather “turn off” and let it be somehow force fed to a story that involves little to none participation. And when i say that i am talking about the loads of films that are a copy of a copy. Movies that are given the same familiar story arc, just with new faces. Or those really lame Epic/Date/Scary/Diaster Movie film franchise, where they just poke fun with silly humor at a piece that was thoroughly engrossing. But don’t get me wrong there are movies that are so heavy on audience participation that really shake you. Inception, The White Ribbon, Etc. But in my mind those are similar to the “IT” book of the time. What is everyone currently reading (Kite Runner/Water for Elephants/Twilight(?)).

    Its about taking the time to participate in a story/poem/film. Not just hearing it or watching it. But taking the time to fully involve yourself in a piece. I know a lot of people who won’t watch foreign because it calls for them to read, and they see that as to much work. “I didn’t come here to read, I came here to relax.” Which then says: are Art pieces just fluffy entertainment? Are they there to just help us relax after a long hard week? Then what does that make of the artist? Is she/he being held at the same level of importance as a teacher/doctor? Is that person being taken seriously?

    So to wrap up:
    Anything involving creation is ART.
    Forming words together to create a piece is ART.

    It then ends up mostly on the victim of your art.

    Do they just overlook because they don’t to be involved. They think they would rather be comforted if they watch.

    Or does the wallflower finally get there back off the wall and steps closer to really take the time to be apart of it.

    If the victim is just a wallflower then they really can’t appreciate ART.

    1. It’s interesting if you think about it how on the one hand we want to be fed and on the other, we want to be the hand doing the feeding. I think your comment about subtitles definitely hits something here. Then of course, you mention art house films vs. mainstream mega-flicks. I find the process interesting, but maybe that’s for another blog post another time. Thanks for chiming in X!

  2. Yes, many times I find myself very tempted indeed to lick the screen!!!! hehehe

    Tuesday nights will always be such a fond memory for me. It gave me a source of entertainment and relaxation that I usually feel like could only come from the tele… Now poetry, especially the trippy, kinda crazy kind, is a pleasure for me that I never knew before. Not to mention the cherry on top with the back rubs!!

    I truly did discover more about the power of the written word through those times~~~~

    Much thanks to you AZ

    1. So the key is figuring out good poetry books for you now in those quiet moments where baby is sleeping. Love you lots Min & I will cherish our fun back scratch / poetry nights.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *