We revere Robert Louis Stevenson for his adventure novels, but he was not a genre writer in the modern sense of that term. While Black Arrow, Kidnapped, The Master of Ballantrae, and Treasure Island may seem like straightforward romantic picaresque yarns, Stevenson was always deeply concerned with the moral aspects of his story. Among his fiction, the famous novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde most vividly reveals his other side. The story deals with Stevenson’s understanding of the subconscious mind and the idea that good and evil can reside in the same person. Issues of morality so vexed Stevenson that he called ethics his “veiled mistress.”
Questions of morality so concerned Stevenson that he called ethics his “veiled mistress.” All of his works carry his moral values. (Image: Wikimedia)
He may have acquired a theoretical concern with morality from his fiercely Calvinist nanny, but ethical concerns literally overwhelmed him when his artistic ambitions prompted a serious clash with his conventional and practical father. Unable to sway his obstinate parent, Stevenson had to justify to himself his decision to pursue art rather than a more realistic means of earning a living.
Why do art? For the immense intrinsic reward and the hope of touching others as the artist himself has undoubtedly been touched. The artist hopes to share his own attempt to make sense of his experience, with the aim of adding meaning to the lives of others. Vincent van Gogh was a perfect example of this artistic vision. He is also an example of how it can all go wrong. His early works depict toiling peasants and nature, but as he developed as an artist, he became obsessed with bright colour. He ended his tormented life by shooting himself with a revolver in a field filled with ripe golden wheat, the colour of which must surely have reminded him of the huge yellow sunflowers he loved so much and is so famous for painting.
Vincent van Gogh is a sobering example of how artistic vision can lead a creative person into difficulties. (Image: WPClipart)
Not all writers want to dedicate their lives to their art, but as Virginia Woolf has noted, many people who write want to do nothing else. Those who love literary biographies can attest to the remark’s salient truth. Are you among those for whom the urge to write is so strong it eclipses all other ambitions? If you are, then you have – whether you consciously realize this or not – joined those who want to dedicate their lives to art. Give this some thought. The single most effective way to enhance your work’s power is to have a clear understanding of what you want and what you are doing.