Around a hundred years ago, nerdy and pretentious little James Joyce read Aquinas and Aristotle then penned some of the most intriguing definitions for what art should be, and I think it’s worth remembering a few of his key points.
Static vs. Kinetic: Joyce asserts that pornographic art moves the reader in a kinetic fashion by pushing only one emotion or idea the way that porn has a single clear reaction in mind. On the other hand static art, the finer art, pulls the reader in several directions so that he is tethered from so many places he cannot move. The dark and the light. The joy and the pain. The humor and the sadness. The infinitely brilliant and the infinitely stupid. While writers are constantly encouraged to make an audience FEEL, the best writers don’t limit that feeling to a single emotion. Is your work only a fun work? Sad work? What could you do to tease out other sentiments?
Great art has Aquinas’s principles: Wholeness, harmony, and radiance.
Wholeness: “The work should be selfbounded and selfcontained upon the immeasurable background of space or time which it is not.” Essentially, are you writing to a trend? Could the work stand alone or does it require a movement to support it?
Harmony: “You apprehend it as a complex, multiple, divisible, separable, made up of its parts, the result of their parts and their sum, harmonious.” Does your work have subplots/smaller character arcs working individually whose rhythms/peaks are timed to enhance the key driving force? Does the setting work both individually and enhance the tenor of the piece? Do all of those pieces feel cohesive?
Radiance: “You see that thing which it is and no other thing. The radiance is the scholastic quidditas, the whatness of a thing.” This one is by far the toughest. Is your work really unique? Could it have been written by anyone else? And, more importantly, does that shine? I have no other questions to ask for this one, but as Malcolm Gladwell suggests in his book Outliers that it will take about ten thousand hours of practice to create what Joyce might call “radiance.”