So IÂ come home from two weeks of traveling to discover that I’ve offended a number of people with my last blogpost, about what I thought was an innocuous topic, and it wasÂ this:
Artists view art differently than consumers do.Â
It wasn’tÂ a blog that anyone could possibly get upset about,Â I thought.Â Just a little quickie topic before I rushed off for the airport.Â Â Perhaps if I’d stated it more elegantly, as the wonderful Elaine Cunningham did in the comments section, it wouldn’t have provoked some enraged readers to forever swear off my books.Â I never believed that blogging could help a writer sell books; now it seems clear that blogging can make you lose readers.Â Which may explain why writers who’ve reached a certain point in their careers cut off all contact with the public. It’s safer that way.
You never know when something you writeÂ will get people pissed off at you.Â I never said that my books were “pearls before swine.”Â I was talking specifically about OTHER writers’ books being unappreciated, books that i thought deserved better.Â I suspect thatÂ a majority of writers agree that they read books with a different eye than non-writers do.Â Writers can point to books they considerÂ artistically brilliant which were ignored by the reading public.Â And writers canÂ also point to megaselling novels,Â beloved by the readers, thatÂ are clumsily written.Â But perhaps we shouldn’t say such things in public.Â Â
Last April, the Washington Post performed a fascinating experiment, described in an article (aptly) entitled: “Pearls Before Breakfast.”Â They enlisted the help of world-famous violinist Joshua Bell to playÂ in a busy Washington subway station.Â He performed wearing a jeans and tee-shirt, so he might have been any street musician, except for theÂ fact that he was JoshuaÂ Bell, he was playing a rare 18th centuryÂ instrument, and the pieces heÂ performed were among the most challenging ever written for the violin.Â The Washington Post wondered: would the average passerby recognize genius?
They soon had their answer.
Thousands of commuters streamed past, ignoring the concert violinist in their midst.Â When questioned later, many didn’t even register that there was a musician in the station.Â Those who did remember him dismissed him as just another busker out to earn a living, nothing special.Â Maybe played too loudly.Â Big deal; they wouldn’t pay anything to watch him perform, even in a concert hall.
Only a few people did stop to listen.Â Â One was a man named John Picarello.
“Like all the passersby interviewed for this article, Picarello was stopped by a reporter after he left the building, and was asked for his phone number. Like everyone, he was told only that this was to be an article about commuting. When he was called later in the day, like everyone else, he was first asked if anything unusual had happened to him on his trip into work. Of the more than 40 people contacted, Picarello was the only one who immediately mentioned the violinist…
(Picarello said):”This was a superb violinist. I’ve never heard anyone of that caliber. He was technically proficient, with very good phrasing. He had a good fiddle, too, with a big, lush sound. I walked a distance away, to hear him. I didn’t want to be intrusive on his space… Yeah, other people just were not getting it. It just wasn’t registering. That was baffling to me.”
When Picarello was growing up in New York, he studied violin seriously, intending to be a concert musician. But he gave it up at 18, when he decided he’d never be good enough to make it pay. Life does that to you sometimes. Sometimes, you have to do the prudent thing. So he went into another line of work. He’s a supervisor at the U.S. Postal Service. Doesn’t play the violin much, anymore.”
And then there was another commuter who stopped — a woman named Janice Olu who recognized that Bell was more thanÂ just a common street performer:
“Olu, a public trust officer with HUD, also played the violin as a kid. She didn’t know the name of the piece she was hearing, but she knew the man playing it has a gift.
Olu was on a coffee break and stayed as long as she dared. As she turned to go, she whispered to the stranger next to her, “I really don’t want to leave.” The stranger standing next to her happened to be working for The Washington Post.”
What struck me when I read the article was that the two commuters who immediately recognized Bell’s genius had themselves played the violin.Â They weren’t professional musicians, but they had played the instrument and understood just how difficult and demanding the violin can be.Â Surely their own struggles with the violin had taught them to recognize true musicianship, in a way that the average listener didn’t?Â
In much the same way, I think that writers recognize good writing, even when other readers may not.
But enough of this topic; I’ll just get myself into more hot water. It’s hard enough dealing with bad reviews for my books; to get bad reviewsÂ ofÂ something as trivial as my blog is more heartburn than I can handle.Â Â Dealing withÂ the grumpy public can makeÂ any writerÂ want to bar the door and stay out of sight.Â