Every so often Steven Savage writes what amounts to a manifesto of creativity. The latest is "No More Heroes – But A Legion Of Them", and it is essentially an attack on the idea of big creative tentpoles as the model for others to follow. I liked the points he made and the recommendations he offered, this one in particular:
I do believe we should share literature and media, but no more preaching. Let’s encourage people to enjoy things but let’s stop pursuing the next big thing – it’s wearing us out and wearing us down. It’s tiring to have so many must haves. Let’s make offerings not demands.
I have long held a motto of my own that I think is an echo of what Steve is putting out here: Palettes, not hierarchies. The point of this is not to say that there is no merit in arguing about (as John Cage put it) First, Second, No Good, etc. Only that the importance of such things is grossly overvalued, and often assigned the wrong kind of importance.
When he was still alive, Roger Ebert compiled an ongoing archive of what he called the Great Movies. Not "great" in the sense that everything not on that list was trash, or even inferior, but in the sense that he felt he had a good argument to make, not merely reflexive praise to offer, for why those films deserved attention and thought. The most crucial thing about the list, I think, was that it was not ranked. You could start anywhere. There was no attempt to put 2001 over Citizen Kane, let alone GoodFellas or Duck Soup. The idea was to look at how every kind of movie could embody a greatness. For him there was greatness in Say Anything as there was in The Seventh Seal.
Each of these things were an offering, not a demand. They were not attempts to define a canon, where there are things in the picture and things out of them. They were doors into a conference room.
I do think the rules about cultural consciousness need to be different for creators than they do for lay audiences. If you're creating things, it helps to be that much more aware of what's come and gone, if only to avoid repeating mistakes or just embarrassing yourself. I remember a self-published author once using the term "storoems" to describe what he believed to be a new kind of poetry, one that combined storytelling with poetic construction. (Evidently he'd never heard of Homer.)
For the rest of us, I'm less inclined to be as stern about it what needs to be seen. It's all a matter what the point is. If someone doesn't have any ambition to become canonically conscious, you can't strong-arm them into it. But if you're making something, it's tremendously helpful to know what the playing field is like and has been like. And again, the point of having any kind of palette is for it to be a palette, to widen the range of offerings instead of insisting that they be narrowed down to a few "good" ones.
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