It might be said that literature aspires to something higher, art perhaps. Artistic merit. Perhaps.
None of the reporting I’ve done, the blogs for trial lawyers that I write, none of the magazine articles I’ve ever worked on could be considered literature or art. Instead, they are workman like writing bent solely on communicating clearly. Unvarnished and without nuance, they provide a standard meal without dessert. Given the deadlines they were written under, and the requirements set by editors, that may be enough. Solid food. Perhaps literature provides the apple pie.
My one brush with the literary world is coming up with the publication of my first creative nonfiction essay. It is in a literary journal so is it not literature? Maybe. I think it is simply strong storytelling without the need for a label. It took no longer to write than one of my Rock&Gem articles. But within its 2,500 words I got to explore ideas, even in my own limited way. I’ll never provide scholarly insights like Huxley but I am not trying to.
The visual art world has an easier time deciding what kind of art exists, although they wrestle with the more fundamental question at every moment. What is art? is as difficult as asking what is literature. But back to their distinctions. Chiefly, fine art is produced by an artist on their own, according to their own lights, without an employer or boss telling them what to create. A graphic artist, by comparison, works on projects assigned to them by someone else. Norman Rockwell was the epitome of a graphic artist. Perhaps literature is only written by those selecting their own stories.
I’ll leave with some enlightening quotations. Again, I may not know how to define literature, but I know it when I see it.
“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.”
― G.K. Chesterton
“Literature is news that stays news.”
― Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading
“Life is not a PG feel-good movie. Real life often ends badly. Literature tries to document this reality, while showing us it is still possible for us to endure nobly.”
― Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook
“Serious literature does not exist to make life easy but to complicate it.”
― Witold Gombrowicz
Quotes from Goodreads.com (external link)