Thursday, January 25, 2018

Ars Gratia Artis

There are few Latin phrases that are part of American culture that aren’t scary and legalese. Ars Gratia Artis is one of them and it’s a good one.

For decades we’ve seen it over the iconic roaring lion on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) production trailer trademark. It’s a motto. What’s a motto? I dunno, what’s a motto with you?

Ars gratia artis means: “art for art’s sake.” It is a fantastic motto and served as mission statement before everyone had mission statements. For a business it was bold, but for the writer, (or any artist) it should be the heartbeat of their lives.

I’m teaching creative writing at the University of Utah this semester. Lots of it. I have packed rooms of people wanting to write. They are amateurs, meaning they are there for the love of it. The thought of making a career out of lines on paper may be an unspoken dream, but for now they just want to know how to write. How to think of story, how to communicate and create. There’s a purity there that goes to the heart of Ars Gratia Artis. Though doubtless they have motives, personal and profession, for now, we can limit it to spiritual. And that’s how, really, it should be.

I am a huge believer that art is a thing unto itself. A worthy endeavor regardless of its transience, endurance or commercial viability. As strange as it sounds I think if someone writes a story and then puts it into a drawer never to be seen again, or burns it on a fire in their backyard, the universe is still a better place for it. This is not a value judgment. Many critics would say that burning a bad story is a public service, but I say the very act of writing, of creating anything, is holy and powerful. The act will change the author and the cosmos. The experience has its own reward and the making of something from “nothing” — expression and manifestation — are at the heart of the soul.

Though not every stories can be published, all should be written.

Ars Gratia Artis

EDIT: Sorry for the typos in the early version, and any that remain. Thus is my life.

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