Sell Art or Sell Out

By Ryan Lanham November 21, 2018  |  Uncategorized  |  no responses

That’s where I am right now. Do I want to sell art—my art, my writings, stories of my life—and in the process sell out all the people I’ll invariably write about?

I might be skipping a few steps here. There are no publishers banging down my door for a manuscript that doesn’t exist, but I’m already a little leery of the day when my writing may do more harm than good.

Brutally honest. I used to wear that badge with pride. Maybe my time as a liar, hiding or minimizing my addictions around loved ones, caused the pendulum to swing too far in the opposite direction. There was no space for tact or sensitivity in my approach to the world.

Tell it like it is. This assumes there is only one version of “it” that can be told. No nuance. No sophistication. No plurality of truths. It reduces the impossible multiplicity of existence into a singularly narrated version of reality. Oh the arrogance.

Write your story. Solid advice for those who grew up in a vacuum. For the rest of us, our stories are never self-contained. The people in our lives—particularly, those we care about most—will show up again and again. And again. And then later on … again. There is no writing “my” story without writing some version of “their” story. And I’m not sure I have the capable hands in which to place that responsibility.

So what do I do? Quit writing? Quit the program? Search craigslist for technical writing positions? Sell my soul and artistic spirit for a little peace of mind—for healthy relationships?

All writers go through this questioning process, so I hear. That makes me feel a little bit.

Yes, you read that right. Pinpointing that feeling, reducing the nebulous blob in my gut and heart into a single emotion, is beyond me right now. Still, I am grateful to be questioning my writerly path at this point in my career. That is to say, my pre-career.

This MFA program offers a space to grow both as an artist and as a human. I know my choices will have an impact. A ripple effect, not just in my life but in the lives of others. And to sell out to sell art feels like a mephistophelian deal I’m not quite ready to make.


Ryan Lanham

Ryan Lanham is a first-year MFA candidate in creative nonfiction.

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