When I decided to enroll in the graduate program, I didn’t know if I would be accepted even though I’d already finished an MA in Marketing from the University of Iowa. I did know that if I did get into Hopkins or some other program that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes I’d made before. One of those mistakes was “not worrying” about grades. As a child brought up in the Dr. Spock tradition (that’s going back a few years) my mother did not equate grades with intelligence or much of anything else. I didn’t want to get kicked out of something that I wanted to do so much.
In the next session, I felt more secure when we talked about how Aristotle divided drama into three parts – beginning, middle, and end. Of course there was also Gustav Freytag’s analysis of dramatic structure: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement or catastrophe, pretty basic information that I’d heard before.
My file card method that I used to write my mysteries had been based on a kind of “W” structure that I’d figured out from reading Agatha Christie’s books. The high parts of the “W” were climaxes. He let us keep an open mind about what kind of structure we should use. The idea of narrative as a cycle, what Northrup Frye called Green World was another way of thinking about structure that we discussed. A story could go from good to bad events or from bad to good events, or variations such as bad to good to bad events. This lecture made sense to me and wasn’t setting off any alarms telling me that I’d made a bad decision.
Our first assignment in the class was to analyze the dramatic structure of Hawthorne’s story by looking for what caused tension, how the tension escalated, where the story climaxed, and how the character changed as a result of the events. Sounds simple enough and this story wasn’t as hard as the ones that we would later study.
Hawthorne’s story was also interesting because of how he viewed an artist’s life. Does an artist need to suffer to create art? Many of the writers that I’ve met believe that because they’ve given up more for their art that it has more value, that somehow, it’s more pure. Since we were in Hopkins’ part-time Graduate Writing Program we weren’t quite sure that we wanted to accept that idea. We still worked our day jobs and supported our families while we pursued our writing. Although, we still had regular jobs, some of us did spend three to four hours writing every day which probably isn’t that much less than someone who doesn’t hold down another job.
When does writing become art? That was another question posed by “Artist of the Beautiful.” What was our goal, our aesthetic? The thing that we all had in common was our desire to make our writing “art” whatever that might turn out to be.