I got to wondering this morning just what does an artist owe to his audience? What I mean is, does an artist (writer, musician, whatever) have an obligation of artistic integrity to his audience, or can he just go ahead and put out whatever he feels like whenever, regardless of how he might personally feel about it, in the hopes that it will sell (or especially because it will sell)?
As a particular example of this, I’m going to pick on poor Piers Anthony (yes, me and every critic in existence). I used to read pretty much everything he wrote, and my gateway drug was his Xanth series. I read the first twenty or so, which I think allows me at least a bit of leeway in my criticism. Additionally, unless I completely misremember (always possible) Mr. Anthony himself has stated on more than one occasion that he basically keeps the series going because it’s easy to write and it keeps him paid (although perhaps not so crudely). Considering he pumps them out at a rate of approximately one a year, that’s hardly surprising.
So here’s the question: does he (or any author) owe it to his fan base to stop writing a series that he’s not personally invested in? As long as people keep buying the books, clearly they see some value in them. Nobody is forcing anyone to buy the books, after all. This feels rather like a distasteful answer to me, but on the other hand we don’t expect factory workers to love the products they create every day (or I hope we don’t anyway). Is there anything wrong with simply being a craftsman, banging out a product that people enjoy even if you personally don’t care about it, and collecting a check? Do we hold artists to a higher standard?
Another point to consider (staying with Mr. Anthony for reference) is that not every work is one that an artist is doing just for the money. After all, I started on Xanth, but I went on to read Battle Circle, Incarnations of Immortality, Bio of a Space Tyrant, and many more works by Mr. Anthony. Xanth was my gateway drug as I said, but it led me into so very much more. If creating schlock is what allows an artist to keep body and soul and family together while working on “true art”, is that a sufficient and worthy price to pay?
And finally, let me point out that all art is, much like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. There was a time when I actually defended the Xanth series as great literature, and there are some books in the series that I still consider to be pretty good fantasy. Regardless, it’s all just one man’s opinion. Does that make it any more or less “art”? I’m going to go with “no”. It’s neither more nor less, no matter what any one person’s opinion is, including the creator’s. Art is just too subjective to be defined by one person, or even a group of people, for anyone else.
Or maybe I just like knowing those books are still out there, waiting to entice some young kid and become his gateway drug. Everyone has theirs; that first creative work that pulled them in to a favorite field or genre, no matter how disdained it might be by critics or friends or even an older and wiser self. And as long as it brings us pleasure, and brings us to pleasure, I think that’s a high enough calling for creation.