How do you make your art black?
Here’s how: First, you need to decide what you’re trying to do. You want to paint something, or write a book, or play music, or whatever. And you want it to be black. Why? Because you like black things? No. Because you think they are deep and mysterious and sophisticated? No. Because you think they will be scandalous and shocking, and get attention for that reason? No. Because you think that if you make your art black, it will be good art? No.
Let’s start with the same old question: How do you make your art black?
Here’s a test. Your art is black if, while you are working on it, you forget what color it is. Everything that comes from that forgetting is black.
You can forget by setting the art aside and doing something else for a while. If at any point in the process of not thinking about it you find yourself wondering whether you should do something else instead and can’t remember why you started this project, then look for ways to undo what you’ve done to date. If you can’t remember why, then it wasn’t because there was something good about it.
Trying to figure out how to make your art black usually involves taking a break from making your art—after all, in order to make your art black, you have to stop trying to make it something else. When people complain that they’re blocked and can’t create, they are usually trying too hard and need to relax.
But sometimes what people really mean when they say they’re blocked is that their art isn’t any good and they don’t know how to fix it. In that case, making your art black is like solving a puzzle: You have to figure out how to do something new
What makes a piece of art black? It has to do with the artist’s attitude toward the people who look at it.
Art is a conversation between two groups: the artists who make the art, and the audience that views it. The conversation starts when the artist makes something new and interesting. Then, if the art is any good, the question becomes: What are you going to do with it?**
The artist might answer this question by adding more layers of meaning or subtracting others. But there is a third option: making his work ambiguous or even incoherent so that it doesn’t say anything at all.
Having an idea worth saying and then refusing to say it; that’s blackness.
So how do you make your art black? Start in one of three ways:
The first thing to do when you make your art black is to use black paint.
The second thing to do is to get some black paint. If there isn’t any in the house, go out and buy some. If you can’t find any, go all the way down to the hardware store and buy a whole set of different blacks, medium blacks, light blacks, and dark blacks. Buy the smallest tubes they have; paints come in a bewildering array of sizes, but almost all paint sold in hardware stores comes in little plastic tubes that look like magic markers. Only it’s not magic; it’s chemistry. (Chemistry is like magic if you don’t know how it works.)
Now mix them together on the palette until they are all exactly the same color. You can achieve this by mixing white into the black paint or by mixing black into the white paint. Either one will work fine; just pick whichever one you think looks better.*
There are many other things you can do to make your art black, but those are for another day. For now just use black paint and mix it with other blacks until you get a solid color that doesn’t have any reds or yellows or whites in it at all. If you do this right away
As I mentioned in the introduction, this is a book about writing code. It’s not about painting, or composing music, or woodworking. I’m sure those activities are interesting to at least some readers of this book, but that’s not why we’re here.
Well, what is programming? One answer is: it’s a kind of writing. You write programs the same way you write essays or novels or web pages; the syntax and grammar are just different.
I’m going to approach this task by talking first about writing in general and then about how to make your writing black. That is, how to make it powerful and persuasive.
The key point here is that clear writing is not enough. To be effective at all, your writing must be forceful as well as clear. Your goal should be to write something that people will remember years later because they wish they had written it themselves. If you want to do that, then you must make your art black.
So you want to make art that is black, and not just dark or ominous? How do you do it?
One way is to cover it with irony. If something is ironic, that means it has a double meaning. That’s what makes it black, as opposed to just dark or ominous. A classic example of ironic art is the Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen. The emperor is not just any old fool; he must be an emperor because only someone rich enough and important enough to have all the power he wants would be foolish enough to want it.
A second way to make art black is by combining two incongruous subjects. Here’s a classic example, also from Andersen: The Little Mermaid. That mermaid lives in the sea — she’s a fish, right? But she also has legs (and a cute little diaphragm). It’s funny because fish don’t have legs! (A less kind way of saying that would be: fish don’t have knees.)
You can get more subtle than that. What does having legs have to do with being a mermaid? Nothing, really. But if we add one more element of incongruity — let’s say she also has red hair — now there
You want your art to be as black as possible, but not so black that it disappears. The writing in _The Winning Ticket_ is very black. It is all about the mental tricks used by lottery players who win. But the emotional result of reading it is not disappearance, but a kind of happy greed, a desire to play the lottery myself. This effect was achieved through several devices.
I said at the beginning that the book was written by a skeptic who does not believe his own thesis. That is true, but I also wrote it by a believer who is not convinced by his own argument. The tone therefore bounces back and forth between these two poles, first presenting an argument and then undermining it, first believing and then disbelieving, first taking one side and then the other.
This may seem like an unpleasant way to read a book on a sunny afternoon, but in fact this back-and-forth movement makes for happy reading. It creates what Toni Morrison called “a kind of contradiction in terms—a desired suspension.” This suspension is both intellectual and emotional: it gives you permission to enjoy something you know you shouldn’t.
And you don’t have to be writing about lotteries to create this effect: indeed most effective pieces of writing