Writing - Craft or Art?
by Kenneth Mulholland
l'Art pour l'art- Art for Art's sake.
'Poetry', said Charles Baudelaire, (1821-1867) 'has no
other end but itself, and no poem is so great, so noble, so entirely
worthy of the name as that which has been written simply for the
pleasure of writing a poem.'
The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, amongst many other comments, says
of Art; 'Skill as the result of knowledge and practise. Human skill.
Perfection of workmanship or execution as an object in itself.'
In the Middle ages; pertaining to writing: grammar, logic
and rhetoric are all mentioned.
Of Craft, amongst other references, the Oxford notes, 'Intellectual
power; skill; art; ability in planning and constructing, ingenuity,
So what are we to make of that?
Here are some brief words from Hendrik Willem Van Loon, author of 'The
Arts Of Mankind,' first published in 1938, reprinted through to 1953.
'Then what is an artist? A painter is merely some one who
says, "I think I see." A musician is a man or woman who says, "I think I
The poet is a person who says, "I think this is the way I
can best express my personal dreams in some sort of universal rhythm."
The novelist says, "Let me tell you a story as I imagined
that it happened or might have happened."
Each artist in his or her own way is merely a sort of
recording instrument. Whether their record means something to the rest
of us or nothing at all is none of their concern.'
Then is that all there is? Just get about writing and pay no attention
to anybody or anything else? Write what thou wilt?
I don't think it's all quite that simple.
Sure, we who choose to write, choose our subject matter
and sure, to hell with those who don't like what we write. Yes? No? Both
We all want to write for ourselves as individuals and yet at times we
are bound to work for others. Even popular, best-selling authors sing
for their supper creating what The Market requires. So does that make
their output Craft, or Art, considering the monetary returns? Do we
value commercial success as Craft or Art?
'The cat sat on the mat.'
They tell us a little story. They are not Art, but they
are a part of a craft. This is the beginning of something called
communication through the written word.
'I think. Therefore I am.'
What do they convey?
They tell us that the writer is a sentient being in one
simple, single statement. And they describe the idea of thought, of
thinking, of the abstract.
'An angry man-there is my story: the bitter rancour of Achilles.'
'Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring, of woes
unnumber'd, heav'nly Goddess sing!'
These are lines from modern translation and ancient text, and they speak
to us with a mighty resonance. Why do they survive?
'Yorick! I do sing to you now, even now when you are dead and gone?
A quote from Shakespeare? Nope! Just me. Alas poor Yorick, I didn't know
him well at all. Yet the words of writers such as Shakespeare and... oh
Chesterton, Jane Austin, the Bronte sisters and so many, many others,
still hold places in modern literature. And they don't have to be what
we might call 'Western Writers.'
Khalil Gibran is a significant example. Just read his
beautiful work 'The Prophet,' and be uplifted through his sublime words.
Ancient Writings survive the long ages because of Humanity. Those that
do not have not failed the test of Craft versus Art, but rather the test
of changing times and changing tastes. This, I feel, is true of all
literate civilisations, East and West. Of those ancient texts the most
powerful are the writings that form the basis of various religions which
still thrive today. Then there are the writings of History's Statesman,
Politicians and Philosophers, Military Leaders, Historians themselves,
Explorers and Scientists.
What makes any of their Writing Art?
Longevity? Revelation? Style? Historical values?
Perhaps none of the above, because not all are regarded as works of Art
And yet The Koran (Qur'an) the Bible and The Torah are all revered, not
only for their religious significance but for the magnificence of their
form and structure, and the aesthetic beauty, wisdom, power and truths
that they contain. Are these tomes to be elevated to Art? Or do they
stand above even Art on some higher platform?
'The fundamental things apply, as time goes by.'
Gee I was going to say that, but some lyric-writer beat me to it quite a
number of years ago.
And there we have it. The fundamental things do apply. Writing is always
going to be a Craft, from the lowest shopping list or quickly dashed-off
letter or the slave lists from the pyramids to the engineering-teams of
the Roman roads to the aspiring writers of centuries gone by and right
up to now.
So where does the answer lie?
It lies with The Passing Parade. That is, in essence, Humanity. It lies
with current tastes and trends. In other words 'Art' itself is a liquid
entity that is subject to the Here and Now, as well as the Yesterday and
Literature to this day has been judged by our
predecessors and our peers. They are the ones who decide what is or will
be considered 'Art'.
Yet, in the coming years a New Humanity will arise to reconsider, to
evaluate and to re-assign, based upon their knowledge and concepts and
thinking as to the relevance of such past works in the world they go on
Can Writing become more than mere Craft? Only if it is assigned that
position by those of the day. They are the ones capable of lifting it
into the area of Art, and they, or those to follow, are responsible for
so maintaining it.
Is 'Gone With The Wind,' art?
'Lord of the Rings?' 'Harry Potter?'
Are any of the works produced by writers in the last
century Art? And what about the poets, Shelly, Keats? Do we consign them
to the trash-bin of history?
Writing as Craft or Art?
If only The Passing Parade can be considered responsible
Auditors and Critics, and their fanciful caprice is left to guide us,
where are we drawn?
To this conclusion. Writing starts as Craft. From there it can escalate
from the banal to the mediocre, to the passing fair. And then, perhaps
to levels that might, might be considered artistically worthy.
Judged by its peers, at times unfairly, and by its
public, at times unfairly, it has the potential to rise above all, to
transcend and perhaps for short periods to attain that higher quality we
However, be assured that accolade Art is never certain and can be
removed at a moment, or a century's notice.
Writing will always begin as a Craft, yet it has the potential to reach
further toward the illusive goal we know as Art.
To that end, should Writers strive.
Is Writing an Art or a Craft?
The art versus craft debate is one which
has been ongoing for a while now, but in order to determine if writing
is a craft or an art, one has to first define them individually.
Essentially they are more or less synonyms; however, there are very
minute differences worth being mentioned. The word craft
refers to the products of
artistic production or creation which require a high degree of tacit
knowledge and are highly technical and specialized.
Art is the conscious
production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other
elements (words) in a manner which affects the sense of beauty. It is
the high quality of conception or execution, as found in works of
beauty, the concentration on a work’s aesthetic value.
Writing is a definitely always a craft,
like sewing, knitting, painting or poetry, but is it always necessarily
an art? It depends on the writer. All writers approach writing as a
craft, following the universal standards of including must-haves like
plots, dialogue and characters. There are rules and regulations to
writing which make it a craft, and therefore give the craft definition a
technical edge. With writing, there are techniques which have to be
learnt and practiced in order for it to qualify as a craft and as
writing, especially good writing.
Whereas we link craft together with
technique, in the case of writing as an art, the focus is on the ability
to affect the sense of beauty. It has to be of aesthetic value to
qualify as an art. However the interpretation and substantiation of
writing as an art is subjective. It is a matter of context depending on
the audience. Some may perceive it as a craft and others as art,
depending on their definition of what is essentially evokes their sense
Two writers who invoke a sense of beauty
in me with their writing are Nigerian Ben Okri and the controversial
Sudanese-American Kola Boof. Apparently Ben Okri appeals to Jenny Turner
of New Statesman & Society’s sense of beauty because she praises his
The Famished Road with these simple words,
“Overwhelming…..just buy it for its
In order to understand what she is
referring to, here is a quote from the book,
“With our spirit companions…..we were
happy most of the time because we floated on the aquamarine air of love.
We played with the fauns, the fairies, and the beautiful beings. Tender
sibyls, benign sprites and the serene presence of our ancestors were
always with us, bathing us in the radiance of their diverse rainbows…”
Okri maintains this poetically beautiful
writing throughout his book with a consistency that not only drives one
to tears, but floods the sense of imagination with a child-like sense of
awed fantasy and appeals powerfully to ones sense of beauty.
Kola is to writing, what a
painter is to painting. She writes words as if she is painting. The
language in Kola’s books is seductively beautiful. For example, her
description of the African skin, hair and skin is affirmative and
sensuous. Colourfully and poetically descriptive, one of her best
descriptions are those of black women in the book Long Train to
Redeeming Sin, using richly imbued words like;
As black velvety and as
beautiful as the Queen of Sheba” (pg 102), “liquid black eyes” (pg 102),
red lips against charcoal (pg 102), “brave pagan yellow of Cleopatra”
(pg 91), “caramel-earthen-wine-dark flesh of Nefertiti” (Pg 91),
“beautiful black midnight spirit women” (pg 92), slippery jet black-dark
ebony” (pg 8), “Silvery charcoal black lavender skin” (pg 15), “eyes
soft as Arabian silk” (pg 17), “baby soft skin...creamy rich like
chocolate pudding” (pg 69) and “sexy bellpepper-thick flat nose, wide
nose of her race” (pg 69)
The question of writing is
an art or a craft is as complicated as defining what is beautiful.
Although I am of the opinion that writing as an art is of a slighter
superior quality in the creative realm than writing as a craft, the
mystery of whether it’s an art or craft lies in the eyes of the
Sources and extracts
The Famished Road by Ben Okri
Long Train to the Redeeming Train by
WHO IS KOLA
BOOF?-Perspectives of a Female Ugandan/African Writer After Interviewing
the Author by Jane Musoke-Nteyafas (Review forthcoming publication)
The Free Dictionary by Farlex
Musoke-Nteyafas, poet/author/artist and playwright, was born in Moscow,
Russia and currently resides in Toronto, Canada. She is the daughter of
retired diplomats. By the time she was 19, she spoke French, English,
Spanish, Danish, Luganda, and some Russian and had lived in Russia,
Uganda, France, Denmark, Cuba and Canada. She won the Miss Africanada
beauty pageant 2000 in Toronto where she was also named ‘one of the new
voices of Africa’ after reciting one of her poems. In 2004 she was
published in T-Dot Griots-An Anthology of Toronto's Black storytellers
and in February 2005. Please visit her website at
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Publishing New Writers,
August, 2006 (no. 708)
Publisher: Bruce L. Cook, P.O. Box 451, Dundee, IL 60118.
Fax (847) 428-8974.
To subscribe and/or review our archive of past newsletters, go to
One way to get
published, of course, is to self
publish. Rather than relying on a
publisher to accept your work and
then pay you 10% to 15% of the
profits (if you are lucky), you can
have your book printed at your own
expense, then set about selling the
book to bookstores and individuals.
That way, you keep all of the
profits, after your printing and
advertising expenses. The problem
is, that can involve considerable
expense in both time and money up
front. An initial run of printing
can cost thousand of dollars, and
then you have advertising costs.
There is, however, a cheaper way to
publish your book and distribute it
world-wide: an ebook.
An ebook is an
electronic book. Simply put, it is a
computer file. You can post the file
on a Web site and allow people to
download the file. They then read it
on their computer, much as you are
reading this newsletter. The file
would remain on their computer, and
they can run it like any program and
view it whenever they like.
When you put
out a book as an ebook, your costs
are very low. You have no printing
costs, no inventory to warehouse, no
shipping costs. Your initial cost is
basically the cost of any technical
help you need in creating the file
in a format that anyone can read (if
you are not particularly computer
savvy). Ideally, your file format
should have extra features, like
bookmarks, search functions, and the
ability to print parts of the book.
Your main ongoing cost is the cost
of maintaining a Web site to
distribute the ebook. You will also
probably pay for a credit card
service to process your credit card
orders, unless you limit yourself to
payment by check or money order (a
very bad idea for a Web based
business). Other than these, you can
keep almost all of the income from
Once you create
an ebook file and set up a Web site,
the next problem is how to make sure
you get paid. If you simply allow
anyone to download the file from
your Web site, they have no reason
to pay you. The more widely you
distribute the file, the bigger this
I happen to be
a software programmer with
considerable experience with this. I
write programs which I allow anyone
to download from the Internet. The
catch is that the program will only
work for 30 days after you download
it and install it on your computer.
At the end of the 30 day trial
period, the program stops working
until you pay for it. That gives the
user time to see if they like the
program enough to pay the price. The
technique is called shareware, also
known as "Try Before You Buy"
software. It occurred to me that the
same general principle could work
with ebooks. The time limit idea
would not work well, because I have
no idea how fast a person could read
the book. They might very well
totally finish the book in a day, or
it might take them weeks to read
enough to decide if they like the
book. So, I modified my system. I
created a program that lets them
read the first 20% of the book for
free. If they like it, they can pay
for an unlock code that lets them
read the rest of the book. I can
allow them to download the ebook
freely, and still get paid if they
like it. Not only can I post it on
my own Web site, but also on the
hundreds of shareware sites that
allow anyone to post their files on
them for people to download. No
matter where people get my ebooks
from, I still get paid if the people
want to read the last 80% of the
My next problem
was churning out enough ebooks to
make some money. I have a few in the
works, but it occurred to me that
since I had developed the ebook
software program and was creating
and hosting a Web site, I could
publish other people's books as
ebooks too. It would make a perfect
compliment to (or substitute for)
authors selling self-published
printed copies of books. So, I am
now looking for people who want to
self-publish their books. I offer to
create the ebook from standard word
processor files, distribute the
ebooks on the Internet through
hundreds of sites (something I
already have years of experience
doing with my software), collect the
orders and take payments. I keep
$2.00 or 20% (whichever is greater)
of each book's receipts, and pay the
rest to the author quarterly. I
even set up a page to explain my
offer to authors at
So far I have
signed one other author, and had
several others express an interest.
Aside from the fun of helping other
authors publish their books and
making some money at it, I have the
fun of referring to "my world-wide
publishing empire" at parties.
Advanced Techniques: Flashbacks
by Sandy Tritt
Foreshadowing drops hints of what
may happen in the future. The main
purpose of foreshadowing is to keep
the reader interested by adding
suspense. It is very easy to use. It
usually consists of only one or two
sentences, and is especially
effective when ending a scene or
Sam wished he could
rid himself of the sick feeling in
his gut that told him something
terrible was going to happen, and
Jackie didn’t know
it at the time, but this would be
the last time he would see his
Thunder rumbled in
the distance. The air was thick with
tension and would soon explode.
Study what works in
fiction you admire. Notice the tools
the author uses to enter the past or
foretell the future. Unless you are
a writer, these techniques should
appear invisible and smooth. But as
a writer, you must learn to use
these techniques to add punch to
your own work.
(c) copyright 2002 by Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved,
except for those listed here. November be reproduced for educational purposes
(such as for writer's workshops), as long as this copyright notice and the url: http://tritt.wirefire.com are distributed with the pages. For use in
conferences or other uses not mentioned here, please contact Sandy Tritt
for permission and additional resources at no or limited charge.