... what your message is? In a world that is so flooded with adverts, emails, and social media even now transitioning from full length videos into shorts, two minute TikToks and thirty-second blips on the radar of human attention, does having a message even matter?
And why on earth would it be important that the message you lead with... is a good one? A hopeful one?
When art and words were one
In the beginning the written word was art.
Some of the earliest hieroglyphs we have from Ancient Egypt, one of our oldest civilizations, came in the form of tags. Little square tags almost as you'd see on store-bought goods today, but marked with drawings that represented something -- and began to represent spoken sounds.
Back in the day, there was no division between art and language.
In fact, we have inherited that world, though we fail to recognize the Egyptian symbol for water in our modern W, for example, and how 'a' came from an Egyptian ox head. But then, we don't recognize most of the Egyptian contributions to modern culture, even as we're looking at them -- seeing the silver earrings in Nefertari's ears without realizing they were more precious than gold, and came from one of Egypt's greatest fans -- Greece. Who emulated Egypt.
But that's another story.
The point here is that words and art are very connected. It's why your handwriting looks as it does, and fits with your art. Like art, handwriting must be practiced to improve, for example.
And that's why, as a professional writer, I can look at the question of messaging through the lens of both art and writing.
Trends in the world of books today
If you were a writer or author (more-or-less a published writer), you'd have noticed the trends in books today.
Romance books are still the Queen of the Castle out there, for example. This may be explained by the fact 80% of readers are women. But the trend on Gen-Z/Alpha juggernaut, TikTok, leans toward a certain type of romance. One dominated by dark themes and explicit scenes (spice). Dark Romance is popular. GrimDark is dominant.
The core of Grimdark is finding a flicker of good in a character who, at heart, is a villain. Dark Romance busts taboos like consensual intimate encounters, and is far more adult and explicit than romance books. In both cases, morality is optional and even devoid.
These are fiction books, of course, but what if the landscape of the culture in which these books live is also one that can no longer tell the difference between societally responsible and inappropriate behaviour? What if the concept of deviancy is normalized, and a lack of effort to fit within your culture becomes the norm? What if readers are hundreds of books into the core of the response to existence being... apathy?
Then you have a problem.
Looking at this question from the viewpoint of an artist, it's possible to imagine this setting as one in which all the colours become muddy, and shapes and patterns indistinct. And maybe that will become an art movement in itself? One in which there is no longer a concept of right and wrong, as expressed by the neutralization of all vibrancy.
Oh wait. We've already had a first shot over the bow -- it's called 'Sad Beige'.
In literature the message of hope and good has a whispered name. It's Noblebright, and next to no one knows about it. It's a reaction to Grimdark that reimagines even wars on a fulcrum as solid as the earth's core. Hope. In Noblebright, there is an acknowledgement that hope can deliver us.
To date, the greatest Noblebright author in the English language is J.R.R. Tolkien. Bad things happen in The Lord of The Rings, but good is real, and hope is never dismissed.
Noblebright argues very, very unpopular things like:
We should strive for a balanced diet. If there is Grimdark, there should be Noblebright. It, too, should be taken and read.
We should moderate the spice in our literary diets. Artists know that palette cleansing matters. Without it? Mud.
We shouldn't force-feed feelings of hopelessness, and the notion that there is no right and wrong. This reifies a culture of victimization and helplessness.
As I said, these are very unpopular opinions (and if you don't hold with them, that's perfectly acceptable by me). They're particularly unpopular for an author to have. But I have them.
There is not a shred of hope for empowerment without a balance between one kind of extreme and the other. In other words, speaking as a writer, between the grim and dark, and the noble and bright.
Think now, with that inner light that is an artist or writer. Can you see parallels between the stark absolutes that creators are often taught in schools, and the trends in books?
They thrive on hopelessness.
Hands up if you've ever been told you can't make it as an artist or writer, that you will never sell a single story or piece, this is impossible for you, or you should work for free. Only today's self-indulgent society could take the sesh of Ancient Egypt -- inventor and drawer of writing -- and turn her or him into a doormat to be trod upon.
This is a lack of balance. The ship has listed perilously close to anything goes. Unpopular opinion number two: Anything goes... straight to the bottom. We need to care for, and not neglect, the living cultures we're in. And I feel like the very earth gives us signals to this end. Where there's winter, summer. Where there's night, day. Where there's death, life. Balance.
You're the captain now
To my fellow artists and writers -- you are the captain now.
Against a tide of indistinction, you've committed to learning your craft. Being a writer or artist whose works hint there is right and hope is one of the most socially constructive pursuits you can take these days. If this is your message, it matters to balance. Not just for the culture as it stands, but for the generations coming behind us.
You have chosen to be the candle in the window that can be seen for mile upon mile. Because they are a ship at sea in times that are testing us all. And apathy and darkness won't sustain them. Humanity cannot survive without the light of hope.
Every person brave enough to fight the tides of hopelessness, self-indulgence, and pessimism, and make it to shore, is critical.
Who else will prove it can be done?
Who else will lead the way?
Friends. Stay the course.