Novelists and Artists

The novelist Haruki Murakami, on how he demands regular productivity from himself when working on a new piece of long fiction:

That’s not how an artist should go about his art, some may say. It sounds more like working in a factory. And I concur—that’s not how artists work. But why must a novelist be an artist? Who made that rule? No one, right? So why not write in whatever way is most natural to you? Moreover, refusing to think of oneself as an artist removes a lot of pressure. More than being artists, novelists should think of themselves as “free”—“free” meaning that we are able to do what we like, when we like, in a way we like without worrying about how the world sees us. This is far better than wearing the stiff and formal robes of the artist.1

I find something satisfying about a novelist refusing to call himself an artist. And there is a long tradition of writers de-emphasizing their artistry, likely stretching back to before the novel was a major, reputable genre of writing.

Murakami suggests that artistic production might not be a good descriptor of his activity; perhaps many “artists” no longer see themselves in the image. Perhaps what it means to be an artist has become too specific, and it is easier to discard the label. A writer like Murakami could prefer to write under simpler–if less legible–terms. A lot of art today struggles under a romantic burden; to be an artist is to resist the functional and purpose-driven framework of ordinary life. Murakami’s self-definition–that a novelist is someone who is more free, who takes his or her freedom seriously, who makes use of it–also shares this resistance to a reductive functionalism, even as his artistry accepts a regularity more typical of the factory.

It is worth thinking more about why being an artist has lost some of its attraction–especially to those who devote their lives to making art.

  1. From “Making Time Your Ally: On Writing A Novel.” In Novelist as a Vocation, Haruki Murakami, 2023

Tags novels art haruki murakami method regularity