Sunday, November 11, 2012

The State of the Art

Original Cast recording of "Putting it Together" from Sondheim's Sunday in the Part with George

So, this month's Merry-Go-Round blog tour subject is on the state of the publishing industry. When I started to think about what one struggling writer could possibly contribute to this conversation, given how many industry blogs and articles are out there in the world, I started to think about one of my favorite musicals: Sunday in the Park with George.

There's a song in the second act where George, the great-grandson of George Seurat (the pointillist) is trying to sell his newest artistic production and he sings a song called "Putting it Together." Some of the lyrics include:

Art isn't easy.
Every minor detail
Is a major decision,
Have to keep things in scale,
Have to hold to your vision-
Every time I start to feel defensive,
I remember lasers are expensive.
What's a little cocktail conversation 
If it gets the funds for your foundation,
Leading to a prominent commission,
And an exhibition in addition?

He is frustrated by the way the business of art gets in the way of the expression of art. This is a sentiment I share, and the show explores the tensions artists struggle with in reconciling art with day to day life, which may be why it has always spoken to me (even though it received very mixed reviews on its debut).

This isn't a new issue, even as many writers in our current 'interesting' times might believe it to be. I'm sure Leonardo DiVinci had to deal with making rent money, too. And probably decried needing to sculpt for his patrons.

There are two extremes for the artist to consider: hang the business and the critics and write/paint/sing what your heart demands versus subsume what your heart demands and give the public what it wants. I believe every creator needs to finds a place on the continuum, because neither extreme feels like a healthy or sustainable choice.

My place on that spectrum has been to stay as informed about the business of publishing as possible, and to try to find a way to fold the work of my heart into a format that the marketplace will not reject. I'd like to say that it has been a wildly successful decision. The truth is, that I've found little traction thus far.

Perhaps I've not found the right balance point. Perhaps I just need to be more patient. Perhaps the market needs to shift before I find my place in it. Perhaps I will not achieve commercial success in my writing.

As George says:
Art isn't easy.
Overnight you're a trend,
You're the right combination-
Then the trend's at an end,
You're suddenly last year's sensation.

At the end of Sondheim's musical, Dot, the woman in Seurat's painting, tells the struggling George this:

Stop worrying if your vision
Is new.
Let others make that decision-
They usually do.
You keep moving on.
 As many times as I've seen this show, this song always brings me to tears.  While I have no crystal ball and no special insight into the future of publishing, this I do know: I am a writer and writers write. Regardless of the state of the business, there will always be a need for art. As Dot says, just keep moving on.


Today’s post was inspired by the “state of the industry” prompt in the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour, an ongoing tour where you, the reader, travel around the world from author’s blog to author’s blog. We have all sorts of writers at all stages in their writing career, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.


  1. This is a fabulous post, LJ. You WILL find success! Hang in there and keep doing what you love. I would bet on your current project...

  2. Wonderful and inspiring. I'll never forget your advice to keep on swimming, LJ!

    1. Thanks, Marci. And now I have this wonderful vision of the fish from Finding Nemo singing Sondheim. ROFL. xo

  3. I can relate to you LJ. I'm also a writer and I have fun in every article. This is a great post!

  4. Ah Sondheim, love him, love this musical, and love this song. Thanks for this post Lisa, I needed to hear this again.


    1. Grant--I think I need to re-watch "Sunday" every year, just to remind myself. Hope all is well with you.