Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Tale of Two (or More) Media

Over at Image's "Good Letters" blog, Harmon raises an interesting point, asking whether it's possible for an artist to be as good in one medium as in another. A good question for someone like me, who's been playing with a lot of genres and media within the written form, to consider.

I find this question easier to get my head around in a more general form: "can a person be equally good in a variety of areas?" This question seems to be in part about ability, talent, and time spent focusing on one's projects in a particular medium. But it's also about the ability to adapt what we say to different circumstances and different audiences as well as about our literacies in the constraints and conventions of different media.

It's certainly true that working for a long time in a particular medium can get you used to a particular set of conventions and a particular kind of audience; in this regard, I'm reminded of an excellent speech I heard last year by Camilla Gibb, author of several critically-acclaimed book-club-style novels, about the challenges she faced while moving from writing for academics (she did graduate work in anthropology) to writing novels.

Some people are better at this than others, but as they taught me in linguistics class in college, we're all adept to some degree at code-switching among different situations in our use of language. I think it's certainly healthy to "cross-train" across a variety of areas to make sure we're well-rounded people, even if we choose to focus on one most of the time. In fact, as with cross-cultural experiences, it will not only help us to understand fascinating new things about people and language, it will also help us to better understand the nature of the medium(s) and genre(s) we settle on.

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