by Joseph Devon
The following is the hardest thing Ive ever had
to write. If I can get through this, all the way through
this, than my little corner of the universe will make
sense again and Ill be able to get a good nights
sleep. If I dont get through it
I dont get through it then you wont be reading
this and Ive vanished off into the world of obscurity.
The following is the hardest thing Ive ever had
to write for the very simple reason that I, in no way,
feel like writing it.
My father always used to question my interest with art
in general, with writing in specific. He used to say,
In an English class, you can argue a point around
and around, and at the end of class nobody will have been
proven to have the right answer. In engineering, on the
other hand, if someone doesnt have the right answer,
the god-damned bridge will fall down. His point
was blunt it is whats haunting me at this very moment.
On one hand, you have the very tangible fields of science
with direct and provable facts that produce concrete results
in our world. On the other hand there is art, where no
right answers exist and the results, if any, are impossible
to measure. The question is simple. Why art? Why am I
writing this right now? Why not tuck it all away and become
a banker? It cant just be because Im lousy
What sets me down in front of my computer time and time
again staring at a blank screen that Im to fill
up with words? Is it hopes and dreams of a best-selling
book and immortality? Id be lying if I said it wasnt.
But Id be lying if I said it was, too. Those kinds
of hopes and dreams are very much a part of it, but the
truth is, those are the things that get me to sit down
and stop procrastinating. What happens after Ive
written the first word, and is still happening after Ive
written the first sentence, what continues to happen after
the first paragraph, the first page, the second page and
on and on until the ending has been reached, what happens
then has very little to do with fame and fortune. Those
thoughts are long gone and have been replaced by a string
of images and thoughts constantly being converted into
twelve-point Times New Roman font. Thoughts of money have
never ended up with me figuring out the perfect setting
for a scene. Dreams of fame are not in my skull while
I walk down the street talking to myself, working out
dialogue. And the bestseller list is nowhere near my mind
when I come up with the perfect word to fit a sentence
together. The enticement of a reward is not what makes
me write, its what gets me started, after that its
something else entirely.
Writing, like painting, singing, sculpting, dancing, photography
and acting is a form of expression. It is an attempt to
communicate something inside with the outside world. Something
that is important, important enough to make me sit down
time and time again in front of this Satanic blank screen.
Theres something inside of you, something inside
of every human, that it screaming to get out, a universal
truth. No, dont blush. I dont use those words
lightly. Whatever you write, I know that its something
huge. I know it because the swarming mass of whatever
it was floating through your mind was enough to make you
sit down and get past that first word, and the second,
and the third, and so on until the ending has been reached.
Thats a task that requires an enormous amount of
will. Something is driving you. Something you want to
say. It must be huge; the blank screen is not a hurdle
that is surmounted easily.
Does that answer the Why art question? No,
not really. My fathers statement contains far more
than just a questioning of why I make myself write. It
contains the question of why art is important to begin
with. The more tangible fields have produced a great deal
in our world, from the wheel to indoor plumbing. What
has art produced besides more art? It art even that important?
Couldnt we just do away with it altogether? If youre
like me, such a question makes you cringe with horror.
Of course we cant do away with art! But have you
ever tried to explain to a non-believer why such a thought
is ludicrous? Its not enough to take them to a museum
and stand next to them enjoying a Van Gogh. That sets
you at ease, but it doesnt answer the question.
And I cant settle for convincing myself, that wont
do it tonight. I know I wont sleep if I stop there,
the specter of my father surely wont be happy to
leave it at that.
Good news, though. I think Im closer to an answer
than it seems. Dragging a non-believer to a museum is
the answer, just not in the way it seems. Your enjoyment
of art is the answer. Art is communication; Ive
already said that. Dont kid yourself, in anything
you write there are only two characters, you and the reader.
There is a bond established between artist and viewer
in which something is conveyed. As I said, something fundamental,
even if its only taking a few characters lives,
tearing them apart, and then rebuilding them again by
the end of the book. Something as to the nature of what
were all doing here is passed along, is encoded
in each word, in each brush stroke, in each note, something
harmonious, usually something simple. But something is
passed on allowing you to enjoy, on some unexplainable
level, the art of others. And I think thats the
answer. In engineering, if the right answer is not present,
then the goddamned bridge falls down. But if all the right
answers are there in the tangible sense, and the bridge
is built, is it worth it even if the lives of those who
walk across the bridge are meaningless?
No civilization has ever come into existence without artists.
No civilization is complete without them. Without artists,
civilization would not exist, we would only be isolated
mass, unconnected, left to wander over bridge after bridge,
because art is communication between one person and another.
Art itself is a universal truth.
If youll forgive a slight digression, there is a
Zen story that bears telling.
Once a division of the Japenese army was engaged in a
sham battle, and some of the officers found it necessary
to make their headquarters in Gasans temple.
Gasan told his cook: Let the officers have only
the same simple fare we eat.
This made the army men angry, as they were used to very
differential treatment. One came to Gasan and said: Who
do you think we are? We are soldiers, sacrificing our
lives for out country. Why dont you treat us accordingly?
Gasan answered sternly: Who d you think we are?
We are soldiers of humanity, aiming to save all sentient
I dont have quite the guile that this simple monk
had. I have too much respect for indoor plumbing. I dont
have quite the guile, but I wish I did because that monk
was standing up for me right there. In the battle of tangible
verse transcendent, he found both fields to be perfectly
equal and necessary. I think I know why.
Art is communication. After all, what is speech but highly
stylized singing? Sounds and inflections honed to an exact
degree making communication possible. Its all just
noise, its the composition that gives it meaning.
And where does writing stem from if not painting? Think
about that next time youre writing freehand. Pay
attention to you pen as it moves across the page, what
are you doing, how are you expressing thoughts? You are
painting, painting stokes and lines which encode our language
into a readable form. Writing, all writing, scientific
or poetic, is painting. Its all art. And what is
the fundamental form of engineering, the arch, if not
sculpture? Where would modern medicine be without photography?
What is geometry if not painting? Math more of the same?
As it turns out, I dont even believe art and science
to be as opposed as they first appear. I believe theyre
the same process at work in two different types of minds.
The equations and theories that are taken for granted
by science today came from somewhere, and I dont
think that Newton watching the apple, Archmedes in his
tub, Einstien pondering the atom, I dont think that
any of these moments are any different from the clarity
I seek when pondering a plot point. I believe that the
world of science came to be while someone pondered the
universe on the tangible level. Inspiration struck, and
then the insight contained within was captured to be communicated
with others. Does that sound so different from what you
do? It doesnt sound so different to me. But while
the greats of science have pondered the tangible, I ponder
Math and science can have their neatly provable formulas
and theories. There is no equivalent in the world Ive
chosen to enter because when Im sitting in my tub
pondering things, it is not the physical world Im
pondering. It is my world within, the world of my heart
and soul. My answers are just as real, but they cant
be measured in the physical world. My answers are just
as real, but there is no way to point to something concrete
when dealing with matters of the heart. But my answers
are just as real, and they're just as important, I know
this because of my father's question.
The engineers can build their bridge, and Im thankful
for them doing it. It's the people walking across that
I must look over. For the man walking across who is walking
without a clear idea why, for the woman who is terrified
of what lies ahead, and even for the child whose dog has
just died. Ive got answers for you. And if I dont
have them now, Ill keep looking until I find them.
Ill get them to you just as soon as I find them.
Ill get them to you as soon as I can. Ill
get them to you just as long as I can continue to write.
Joseph Devon, author of The Letter
About the Author
Joseph Devon has written two full length novels and numerous
articles and short stories. He currently resides in New