By Kathleen Bradean
Lately, I’ve had to rethink my relationship to the word
Artist. I never felt comfortable using it to describe myself, but now I’m using
it as a defense of my work.
A person who
practices one of the creative arts.
A person who
is skilled at a task or occupation.
practitioner of a reprehensible activity.*
I don’t see the word “But” in those definitions. “Paint what
you want, but don’t offend anyone.” “Write what you feel, but not just for
shock value.” “Create what you want, but to be a true artist, it must be
aesthetically pleasing to the general public.”
As erotica writers, we’re aware of the big taboos. Many
writers see the taboos as a brick wall at the end of a path and aren’t ever
tempted to step toward it. Some writers climb the wall and precariously balance
on the edge. Others see the wall as the beginning of the frontier and
gleefully, or contemplatively, leap into the beyond.
I’m here to tell you that you can write the taboos. You may not ever get published,
but publication isn’t the be-all, end-all goal of writing. Being published is a
step down a well-trod path but it isn’t for everyone and it has nothing to do
with the creative process. If your first thoughts in creativity are
self-censoring (“I can’t write that because it won’t get published.”), you’re
limiting yourself. Yes, yes, yes, if you make a living off your writing, you
write with an eye to be published, but in reality, very few writers make a
living from their work, so for the majority of us, why not put artistic freedom
first in your hierarchy of needs and publish-ability further down? And even if
you do write primarily with the goal of being published, would it hurt from
time to time to let yourself run wild across the page?
As many of you are aware, I write a SFF series The Devil of
Ponong under a different pen name. While it takes place on a different planet,
readers tend to identify the main character and her people as Pacific Islanders
and the other main race as being from southeast Asia or China. I’m white. Some
people have asked me, ‘How dare you appropriate another race?’ That was when I had to admit I’m an artist.
An artist dares
anything. An artist creates. That is their sole responsibility.
However, no one has to like what I create.
The accusation I dislike the most is that I’ve somehow
stolen someone’s voice by writing this story. Stolen or silenced – both are
terrible things to say. Just because I wrote a story doesn’t mean I’ve stopped
someone else from writing theirs. Is it important to hear the voices of different
cultures? Absolutely. My world gets bigger and smaller at the same time when I
read a novel by someone with a different POV. I want to read voices from other cultures. I’m
not the enemy here! I’m a potential reader.
Is it wrong to speak for someone else? Well, (tiny cough),
that’s been happening to women and minorities forever. Does it make it right?
In what sense? No one questioned Tolstoy’s right to create Anna Karenina.
Whether or not readers think he did a good job of depicting a realistic woman
is another matter. So I’d say, yes, an artist has the right to speak for the other,
just as readers have the right to say, ‘That’ isn’t like anyone I know from my
race/religion/neighborhood,’ ‘This is
racist or misogynistic,’ or ‘Yeah, this character is just like my aunt.’ And the thing is, none of us has to agree.
It’s art. It’s subjective.
*Oprah voice* You get and opinion, and your get an opinion,
and everyone gets an opinion! Yay!
Bringing this back to erotica, from the practical side, you
can always point to the taboos and let them be your guide. But from the
artistic side, why not write what you want to? Create. Be a bit mad. Follow
your imagination down rabbit holes and into dark corners. Let it creep through
the gritty side of your fantasies and peek through the curtains into a parallel
universe. What will it cost you? Or better yet, stop thinking of writing in
terms of profit and loss and start letting yourself be an artist.
Are you an artist?
What is allowed?
Anything you dare to create.
*They meant ‘as in con artist,’ but I’m sure some people would include erotica writers in that category. Reprehensible. That word makes me think of prehensile, and suddenly I’m off in tentacle pornlandia. <==This is why we can’t have nice things. But we can have naughty.