“To him all good things-trout as well as eternal salvation-come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.” ― Norman Maclean.
Art does not come easy. It’s also, at times, vastly over-rated as a kind of spiritual entry point. If your art is good, your salvation will be assured. I’m not certain it’s all about art, however. Sometimes craft is just as important.
Consider the simple act of writing. Good writing can indeed be art–and much of it is. Much more of it, of course, is slop–even journalistic slop such as the kind your humble correspondent dabbles in on a regular basis. It’s times like these when one realizes that this slop is, in fact, craft–and hopefully, good craft-the kind that earns a few bucks, yes–but it also tells a simple story and does so in a society that, though it doesn’t always realize it, has story in its lifeblood.
First amendment prattle, yes–I assure you. But the liberty to say and do as we wish is not as American as apple pie or baseball–it is the standard by which those latter two are measured. What good is baseball without Babe Ruth’s story or Jackie Robinson’s or Roberto Clemente’s? What good an apple pie without the story of the orchard and the recipe that grandma got from the German immigrant couple next door? It’s their stories that live on and it’s their craft, the one they practiced everyday from childhood that makes them who they are. Art? Maybe. Craft? Yes.
Telling those stories, though perhaps they won’t last forever, is still a vital function and I feel bound to it in a way. It’s digging in this particular soil and tugging at these particular roots to see where they grow that allows me to somehow feel connected. The craft is constantly there, but the art is indeed hard to come by. I have assignments that are beyond me at times and I start to slide away from them because what I want isn’t the same as what the editor wants or the goals get turned upside down. It happens.
But it doesn’t change the overall charge to keep the craft going. And I think the reason for the craft is to aim for art, knowing full well that you may not arrive there very often. It’s all the smaller sculptures sitting on tables, counters and desks that add up to the great statue admired by the public. It’s nightly dinners, crafted carefully, chopped, diced, sliced, cooked, steamed and baked that lead to the rustic perfection of simple gracious goodness that appears one evening with the perfect bottle of wine.
Norman Maclean has been one of my favorite writers for many years, now. His spartan use of language in simple detail and perfect description without sentimentality is something of a cross between honest journalism and novel originality. But it’s also a constant reminder to me that my own craft’s salvation will probably not come in the form of one poetic license writ upon the page that changes lives. Instead, it will come by grace–and that means it won’t come easy, either.