Bit of a trick question, that.
Art is also a product. The question has more to do with production values. There’s a difference in the care put into producing a Velvet Elvis and the Mona Lisa. It has nothing to do with Da Vinci thinking, “Yeah, some day, hot dang, I’ll be remembered for this.” I doubt he did. It was commissioned work. But he definitely put more time into it than he made on the commission. He wanted to do a good job.
Not sure anybody on the Velvet Elvis production line has such thoughts. Ever heard anybody at a burgerjoint call from out back, “Wow, Charlie! That’s one damn good fry you made!”?
The “work versus product” question has been with me since January of this year (2020). I took a class with a recognized, award winning author.
Personally, I never liked their work. It was okay written at best, not well written. Not even stylishly written. It didn’t really stand out from much of the other stuff on the shelves.
It was (to me and in a word) meh.
For that matter, I never understood why this author’s work got awards.
Okay, yeah, I do; produce what the public wants and it’ll get recognition. That’s another difference between art and product; Art may take time to be recognized.
The “work versus product” question resurfaced for me when I read The Best of C.M. Kornbluth. I enjoy bronze, silver, and golden-age science fiction and fantasy. Kornbluth’s work fell more into the product than most. By his own definition, too, according to the editor’s notes and author quotes in the book.
The hammer fell…
…with a class exercise we were given; something written by the author, intended to be flash fiction and too long by about 300 words. Cut it down to under 1,000 words. Go!
I started reading. It was, as before, okay. Some good turns of phrase (and being honest, I picked up one learning gem in the class. If I can learn one thing in a class, I’m thrilled). A nice idea in there, somewhere. I redlined unnecessary adverbs, adjectives, fixed some tense issues, clarified a speaker here and there. Removed some expository lumps. There was one paragraph that completely threw me; the POV shift was so abrupt I had no clue who’d taken over the story and it didn’t add anything so I pulled it. A quick word count showed I’d loped off about 280 words. Okay, another few minutes and I’d find twenty more words to cut.
Ding! Time’s up, pencils down everyone.
Then the award winning author showed us how they’d cut 300 words.
They removed the last paragraph.
Which included the character evolution of the story, as in A.J. Budrys’ line that Star Wars couldn’t end with the destruction of the DeathStar, it had to end with someone saying “We destroyed the DeathStar!” (or close to) signaling that the characters understood their job was over, their task completed, their goal reached, the story done, and most importantly, letting the reader/viewer know the story’s over.
But this author simply cut out the last paragraph to meet the word limit requirement. They even said, “It’s ready to go now.”
Essentially the story ended with “We”, not “We did it! Not even “Weexclamation point!”
Now it fit the “1,000 word max” criteria.
A beautiful demonstration of product v art.
Who cares if it still makes sense as a story, it fits. Send it off. We’re done.
An understanding that helped me understand why I never liked this author’s work.
They produce great stuff if you’re looking for a blowoff read. Lots of people are.
I prefer work I can grow from, learn from.
Guess I’ll never win any awards. Not while I’m alive, anyway.