A correspondent on a writing list said that a friend of his wasn’t pleased with his recent success at selling his fiction. The friend thought that writing fiction was an intrinisically self-centered and selfish undertaking.
God creates the world in an ongoing outpouring of love. Artists participate in that creation and exercise an aspect of the image of God built into every human being. Also, in partnership with God, they bring cosmos (Greek for harmony, beauty, order) out of chaos. God created out of nothing; we create out of materials at hand, but we are like the child hammering on the floor of the carpenter’s workshop, imitating in a small way the work of the carpenter.
That process, as limited as it is, can help people make sense of the complexity of existence. Stories can show us that good triumphs (murder mysteries), evil is punished (too many to name), ingenuity is rewarded (heist stories), friendship helps survive loneliness (Lost in Translation), ambition leads to death (Macbeth), repentance leads to life (Crime and Punishment), sense protects from pain (Sense and Sensibility). That’s not even to mention all the wonders revealed in nonfiction.
There are evil, i.e., lying, stories, but that’s the content of the stories, not the fact of their being written.
Writing, as well as the rest of the arts, requires inward focus. If other people call it selfishness, that’s their selfishness. It’s like telling a master chef he’s being selfish because he spends so much time in the kitchen.
People who pass judgment based on whether everything has a measurable result do not help us. In my experience, these judgments can be spiritually damaging. If we deny the value of the gifts we’re given the responsibility of bringing into the world, then the next step is to question our own value as human beings.
What does a mockingbird contribute? A sunset? A Renoir painting? A Bach cantata? Beauty is valuable and ennobling.
Selfishness is something we all have to deal with, but practicing the arts is not in itself selfish.
I wonder if the friend has an artistic bent that he or she has been browbeaten into squelching. (That’s a speculation. It would make a good story.)
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