I’ve been told that in the Twin Cities you can’t swing a dead cat without bumping into a science fiction writer (and that the cat was probably a writer, too). It’s pretty much true, and its not a bad thing. It allows us to host a variety of conventions and makes it pretty easy to set up critique groups. We can discuss our work in the context of crafting and perfecting our art.
Unfortunately, fantasy, science fiction, and horror (which fall under the umbrella term of speculative fiction) are not usually considered art in our culture. These writers are labeled “genre writers” and are denied credit as real artists. A person who splatters her body with paint, then rolls around on a canvas is more likely to get funding than a science fiction writer (which is not to cast aspersions on the afore mentioned form of visual art). Evidently someone has decided that genre writers are not artists and what they create isn’t art. After all, if we were genuine artists we’d write poetry or mimic Faulkner, right?
I’ve been told that it must be easy to write science fiction and fantasy because I can just make everything up. I like to point out that the challenge lies in making the reader believe it. My peers and I use all the same elements of artistic, contemporary fiction (catchy beginning, well-developed characters, realistic dialogue, interesting plot, and a tidy ending) while setting our stories in places that may not even exist. In order for you to become invested in the story, to elicit an emotional response, we have to make you believe it.
According to Merriam Webster, art is “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.”
Like our culture, art is not stagnant. It is constantly evolving to meet the needs of a changing audience. While some past forms of art remain appealing today, others don’t. Painters and poets are obviously artists, but it’s critical to note that they aren’t the only artists.
There is no doubt that art enhances and improves our lives. Regardless of their genre, writers use their medium to explore the strengths and weaknesses of humanity and where our future may lay.
In this society where we have apparently deemed art unnecessary and yet also unaffordable, where we have defined art in such narrow parameters that few of us could actually meet, we have the audacity to judge past civilizations by their art. We look at their pottery, their buildings and their writings. We build up scenarios about them and their culture. We figure out what they ate for lunch.
I wonder how we will measure up when examined by those who follow us.