“Art is its own excuse, and it’s either Art or it’s something else. It’s either a poem or a piece of cheese,” said Charles Bukowski “On Writing”, which reminded me of something I was thinking earlier this morning as I was stuck in a long commute. Who do you measure your own work against? Do you hold yourself to a high standard, a low one, somewhere in between, or not at all.
I understand that for many writers their standard is a commercial one. Writers who have achieved worldly success are the measure of the craft. They look up to a Stephen King or a J. K. Rowling. They aspire to that. They measure their own worth against that.
On the other extreme are those who measure their own writing against the best books they have ever read. I’m in that camp myself, and I know just how far I fall short of that bar. I tell myself that I would know if I ever wrote something as worthy as “The Hour of the Star” or “El Juguete Rabioso”, and I’m pretty damn sure I never will.
And that’s okay, but it also means it’s perfectly all right in my mind that my books will never occupy a shelf in the bookstore of my dreams. That shelf space is too precious. The store is small and very selective. It’s also a commercial disaster, like all the best bookstores.
But the world needs more than the best bookstores. It needs the decent ones, and the good enough ones too, and it needs the decent books and the good enough books. If you only read the best books, you’d come to the end of the list pretty quickly.
Anyway, I can’t even produce much of a cheese. It’s either art or nothing for me. Art doesn’t have to be great. “[It] carries its own reason for being” (Bukowski)