Of Moneymakers and Artists


What cannot be measured in dollars and cents? This is a question that used to have many more answers that it has today.

Take movies, for example. How are script writers, directors and actors valued by those who fund their production? The measure is usually one-dimensional: box office success. As a result, movies are made almost exclusively according to their appeal to general audiences. If you watch clips of actors being interviewed nowadays it is not unusual to hear them yearn for the availability of independent productions, movies which would allow them to test their ability to interpret meaningful scripts and bring fleshed-out characters to life. Here, the word independent is synonymous with low budget and targeted appeal —conditions which rarely, if ever, will attract investors. Top-earning actors and directors have themselves become investors in their own independent films as a last resort to get them produced.

Now, in reference to the quote illustrated above, let’s take a similar look at fiction writing. Juan Carlos Onetti, a marvelous Uruguayan writer whose books, if measured by sales volume, were largely unsuccessful during his lifetime, has subsequently emerged as a literary artist of the highest magnitude. Many of his contemporary peers have been the ones to affirm this.

The quote above, translated to English, says the following:

The author who writes what everyone likes may be a good writer but will never be an artist.

So, in line with movie production, most new novels are green-lighted based on their projected sales appeal to specific audiences. In this case, however, the novels published are marketed according to the specific tastes (genres) of the reading public: romance fiction; science fiction; and other categories such as historical, mystery, crime, and so on. Sadly, the category of literary fiction is often the last to be funded, unless the author in question has already acquired a demonstrable following that makes a new novel less risky to the publisher.

Students of film and writing are made aware of these conditions and then encouraged to follow the path of least resistance. As a result, we have gradually discouraged the artists among us while encouraging those who generate good books and movies —»good» as measured along that one-dimensional axis of dollars and cents.


I have come across this powerful post written by a young woman who I believe lives in India. I understand all her questions but can’t think of one answer I could give her that would help her to feel less trapped. I don’t have many followers, but maybe among you there is someone who can open a door to hope for her.