I want to tell you a story

Fiction is ‘magnificently useless’, but the act of creation and the pleasure of reading are incomparable human joys that we should savour.

Art is useless, at least when compared, say, to the work of a plumber, or a doctor, or a railroad engineer. But is uselessness a bad thing? Does a lack of practical purpose mean that books and paintings and string quartets are simply a waste of our time?

I have spent my life in conversations with people I have never seen, with people I will never know and I hope to continue until the day I stop breathing.

It’s the only job I’ve ever wanted.

These are just some of the intriguing ideas you will be reading in the  article attached below.  I am indepted to my colleague Paola, who coming across it, kindly thought of sharing it with us.  Thank you Paola!

Guess who the writer is!  That was not difficult, was it?  I would really appreciate if you responded to the article and expressed your ideas.  Do you agree or disagree with what the writer claims?  What does the main idea expounded in the article remind you of/make you think of?

I want to tell you a story

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42 Responses to I want to tell you a story

  1. anonimo says:

    Does a lack of practical purpose mean that books and paintings and string quartets are simply a waste of our time? The answer is obviously negative. Art is useless in the sense that it do not provide for our livelihood, or for the survival of body, but since we are human beings, art is fundamental because it is a sort of mind lifeblood. Just think about how many different feelings and emotions art may arouse in us, whether it is a book, a music, a painting or a film, a landscape and so on: it is an impulse that set our imagination free. As mentioned in the article (and it seems somehow paradoxical), it is thinking about art uselessness that we understand the deep value of art: the more we think about its lack of practical purposes, the more we discover its importance.

    As for the last part of the article, I liked very much the idea that a novel is an equal collaboration between the writer and the reader, and that it is the only place where two strangers can meet on terms of absolute intimacy, because it makes me think about the fact that, while reading a book, you feel part of the story, you feel as a “guardian” of a confidence, of a secret or a story, told by the characters themselves.

    However, I agree with Monica and Pietro, when they say that art can also teach: I think that reading a book, or, for example, studying literature and knowing the ideas of authors in the past, is something that allows us to mature and grow inwardly, to confront with our ideas and open ourselves to new ones.

    Federica Cozzarin

  2. anonimo says:

    For Paul Auster art is useless only if we consider the common sense of this word: directly usable to obtain or to do something. The utility of art is deeper and for this reason more important. The task of art is making us think and understand; it let us investigate the essence of things and to realize their beauty and importance. In these terms, art is in absolute the more important instrument to live in a good way, to be aware of our live, of beauty and ugliness of everything around us. Art let us see the beauty of a sunset, the smell of a flower; it let us feel the wind passing on our skin, but also it let us understand the society around us and make us be able to analyze in a critic way what we listen.


  3. anonimo says:

    I don’t think that art is useless, because it feeds our brain. It provides great examples of what we call beauty, which seems to have only a marginal role in the society. Beauty has a marginal role, we need only practical and useful things, we don’t have time to spend on art. But if we had, I think our life would be much better. Art could be useless, but a well-made movie or a good novel or a deep song can influence our behaviour and our vision of the world. After all, that doesn’t sounds to me such an useless effect. Art can soothe our tension or pain, art can be a friend for people who are alone. Even flowers don’t have a practical purpose, but their presence can give a sparkle of joy to the day of a sensitive person. Moreover Auster underlines the power of imagination, which we improve in our childhood. Now I must confess that my parents didn’t use to tell me bedtime stories: perhaps that’s why I found Auster’s works so hard to understand!

    I appreciate Auster’s opinion about novels: I’d never thought before to novel as a collaboration between writer and reader, that’s a way of making the reader more involved, and it is true: to solve Auster’s novels, you need to reflect, to give your personal interpretation. Therefore a novel becomes a conversation between people who will never know each other.

    federica zille

  4. anonimo says:

    *Mr Auster asks: “What purpose does art serve in what we call the real world?”…some people would answer “nothing, it’s a waste of time!” but in my opinion art has multiple meanings and purpose , and as well as I discover even more these world through what we do at school, throw what I read and I see I appreciate more and more these world. It’s amazing when I watch a canvas of a famous artist and I’ am able to step inside that picture, I can feel something flowing out that pictures; you watch a picture, there are colours , lines , maybe people or landscape, all is immovable but can move your feelings and your soul! This, is the magic of art for me! And the same things happens when I read a book! You go through all those words, signs on a white sheet of paper, but our brain can go beyond this visual data, al those words are put together and we can use freely our imagination and build up images , we can escape from the real world and live for a moment in another imaginary world. I agree with MartinaJ.. when she says that she loves reading but hasn’t enough time!! That’s true!!!!!!! I love reading too! I have a list of books that I want to read at the end of this school year too!!! Reading helps me to think to make my imagination work and bring me in other world! Maybe more wonderful that the one I live in, and if it is not, reading helps me to better understand the world in which I live! And make my brain learn to think and reason about what surround me! All arts are definitely one of the best way of personal growing!

    —Martina Nadal—

  5. anonimo says:

    Let me let you know that I love uselessness!! Except the manuals we use at school, how many books are useful? No one! That’s also one of the reason why we do not study them at school. A book is a form of art, it do not necessarily have a function or a moral (or immoral) teaching. “I don’t know why I do what I do. If I did know, I probably wouldn’t feel the need to do it” said Paul Auster and I completely agree with him. I ever draw something when I do not know what to do, well, if somebody will come to me and explain me that my drawings are just an inconscious feedback to my incompatibility to quiteness (I’ve just said the most stupid thing in my life but never mind, it’s just an example…), I would probably send him to hell end never draw again. I know, It’s a stupid example but it goes to the main point: sometimes we do some things (most of them unconsciously) that we just need to do, with no explications or motivations. There are just needs.

    Auster would probably never written his novels with this “unconsciousness”, maybe he could have written fables or simply nothing if he had knew. The beautiful thing of it is that you do things (without understanding them) without realize that they could be extraordinary.

    Auster ever said that the feels really disappointed when he finishes a book; he wants to throw it away just because he doesn’t like it. He starts realizing that is a good novel only after few month (when people bought it).

    It happens also with my drawings. For example, I made a drawing for the Dedica project. I really enjoyed working on it, on my own alone in my room. But when I finished it I was really frustrated: I thought I had never seen a drawing worse than mine. It was my mum that convinced me to bring you my work, I didn’t wanted to. I think that this is also caused by fear. I think Paul is a smart man that has the capability of value his works but he is ever worried about possible consequences of his publications. That’s normal, that’s common life. Just stupid people never be afraid.

    Elena Poles

  6. MicheleDB says:

    No doubt before reading this article, the author is certainly Paul.

    I really appreciate the theme Auster deals with. Everything is explained very clearly and with efficacy even if there is a unique sentence where the author’s message is not unambiguous. The passage is “I would argue that it is the very uselessness of art that fives it its value”, now I would ask to Auster what does he intend saying that. I know that probably is a sort of catchy sentence but, according to me, this is the key point to understand the first part of the text.

    I cannot love art only for its uselessness, I see in it feeling that I cannot found anywhere. The value I give to art and, above all, to music, come from the sensation I feel: in the sinuous sounds I hear or in the color shacked on a canvas to create a work of art.

    Concerning the second part of this article, it will be natural, for everybody, to recall past times when, as Paul Auster written, we lay on the bad, waiting to sleep while one of our parents were telling another novel. You cannot be in disaccord with this, everyone in his youth was interested in fantastic world crammed full of our more intense desire and fear. Novels are the easiest and closer mean to enter a world and a time, unobtainable in the reality but constantly present in the mind of a child.

  7. anonimo says:

    I have read the whole article, in which I have found some new ideas and cues for thinking. i was not surprised to read that the author was Paul Auster himself because the article was written in his own style. waht about uselessness? some people think that art is not useful, but i can’t say for me is the same: when i read a book,(for me

    reading is something that really engages) an excerpt, or an article, I always find a teaching that I do my. For example studying italian literature, if the author is really interesting or intriguing, I analyse his ideas and I choose those most appropriate for me. for me we can’t say in absolute that art is useless because it transmits emotions, images, fragments of life of the artist, but may also be fragments of your life.

    Art has always been inherent in humans since ancient times, and therefore it must have a function, a role in the psyche. However several forms of art are useless because of the author have no intention to trasmit anything.

    Otherwise if Art did not exist we wouldn’t live in the world we know, but in a bare planet without color, without facets and fantasy.

    Matteo Cervesato.

  8. anonimo says:

    I really appreciated all the ideas expresses by Paul Auster in the article. Some people think that a book(a piece of art) can make us more sensitive and understanding. For Paul Auster this is true, but only for rare cases. He quotes that Hitler started out in life as an artist,tyrants and dictators read novels and killers also read novels:for Paul Auster art is useless! The effort and the long hours of practice and disclipline of a pianist or a dancer are useless.

    I love also the last few lines. I agree with Paul Auster that every novel has a connection between the writer and the reader. I like the image that two strangers can meet in the world of books with a total intimacy.


  9. anonimo says:

    Mr Paul Auster is right .Art and fiction do not have a practical pur pose.they do not stop a bullet from enetring a murder victim’s body.

    They do not prevent a bomb from falling on innocent civilians in the midst of war.they do not put food in the stomach of a hungry child.Unfortubately they do not have the power of diong that.

    But art is not useless.it is the expression of the irrational and the emotional part of our essence,”art is what distinguishes us from other creatures”,art is a means to elevate our mind and our soul to higher levels,artists’ creations nourish our souls they make us what we are..human beings.

    Iot is the free expression of feelings,thoughts opinions,view of the world.It is an inborn need that we can’t send to sleep.

    AS Paul Auster wrote in his article,since we were children,we have had the need to encounter art,even in the most simple form,the fairy tale,that has the power of estranging ourselves from reality ad bringing us in a new world.Moreover the child can face his inner torments and darkest fear in a perfectly safe and protected environments,then we grow older we become adults and we stiil need to savour stories,our phantasy and imagination need to be satisfied as weel.

    What if art was erased from the face of the earth?human beings would become like robots,they would use only their physical part.What about our heart?we have feelings,emotions sesations,they have to be nourished by art.

    Moreover art has the great power and responsibility to sensitize and inform people about important issues.for example guernica,the famous painting by picazzo shows the cruelty and britality of the war,it convinces people that war is a huge mistake that must not be fought ever again.

    Montrasio Valentina

  10. anonimo says:

    It would be obvious to talk about all the problems and injustices of the world that, according to many people, art does not help to fight; and so for many of us art is useless. A novel or a good painting really can not help nobody, only the one who sells them or who writes them, because in most of the cases he becomes rich. It is anyway true that, compared to the work of eminent scientists, medical luminaries, volunteers who help people in distress, art is something totally devoid of meaning and absolutely unnecessary. A speech of this kind completely destroys even the greatest masterpieces of literature, of painting and music. But when we are in front of something great, like the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo, or Dante’s “Divina Commedia”, these statements collapse as easily as a house of cards whipped by the wind.

    The definition of art is that: a human activity that produces objects, writing, or behavior that then must face reactions or aesthetic judgments. That is, art is work, art is no mere exercise in style but is part of one of the most important human expressions: the result of the work of intellectual faculties. Art as human expression is then synthesis of the mind and the soul of the artist, even if it can not be done without certain technical requirements and studies. It is therefore an expression of freedom, democracy, but it is also a witness of historical periods and cultural influences. It is an universal message.

    In Middle Age arts were all human abilities; during the Renaissance came the concept of art as a human activity to create beauty: the greatest artists of that period are so unique personalities that they were elected as teachers and guides of the whole humanity.

    Is art really useless? It allows you to see, understand, interpret something of the world around us without rationality and your personal view; it represents an eternal fragment, an indelible mark of a character who really had something to say and share. Paintings, written pages, poems, novels and melodies are there, firm, eternal and impassive. And their impassivity witnesses something, they want not to let die concepts, human feelings and impulses, not to let History die, to understand how the past has been, our origins as well as our achievements and mistakes. Buildings and sculptures, with their aisles and their eyes of stone, are there with a message in every fiber, rock or fragment.

    What Auster wants to say in these words is to give practical meaning to these theories. It is the quintessence of Art, the realization of the author’s target: to make people know, to talk of himself with the most varied and diverse humanity. A novel is that: a conversation about the author himself and his ideas, a multiple, infinite conversation, a fine and stimulating psychological game between the author and the readers. In a world that needs to read, to confront directly and not through a web cam or a computer screen, where the role of dreams is becoming fundamental to continue to live, to remain human, you must have Art, and not to downplay or destroy it with silly or unfounded accusations. Art is representation of Life, and if Art will cease to exist, that day Mankind will not exist anymore.

    Raggiotto Francesco

  11. anonimo says:

    Do you imagine a world without music? I’m not able to. I think that music playes a very important role in everyone’s life. Do you imagine a world without books? I don’t. I read your posts, and I saw that a huge number of us loves reading. Do you imagine a world without paintings, sculptures, sports, and so on? It would be awful. So, why say that art is useless? I completely disagree. Every form of art has its own deep meaning, it is the result of our ideas, the expression of our way of thinking. An artist is someone special, he is not a common person. He is able to express his ideas in another forms, not only by speaking, but through a painting or a song or an invented story (as we saw in ‘Man In The Dark’). ‘Art is what distinguishes us from other creatures’. This sentence is the confirmation that art is not useless. If we created something like that, it means that it has a deep deep meaning, that we as human beings cannot explain.

    Jana Stefani

  12. anonimo says:

    I really appreciate thoughts expressed by Auster in his article.

    Also Montale says that poetry is useless, but it’s indispensable to have free time to spent useless activities like art!

    I think that art is useless, as Auster says, “has never put food in the stomach of a hungry child, has never stopped a bullet from entering a murder victim’s body, has never prevented a bomb from falling on innocent civilians in the midst of war”.

    But I think that art help people to feel better. I don’t know how to explain this idea. Through art you can express and realize yourself. Art is a way to escape from reality, from our dark world, from our monotonous society. But…very often happens that a thing that make us happy or help us to survive drive us in a dipendence’s road and this could be dangerous. Art becomes drug. We can see people who spent all their life to find themself, neglecting their family, job and themself; because they continue to try to find their soul’s essence through art, neglecting their body and mind falling in depression. Mr. Silente in Harry Potter’s film says: “you haven’t to escape in dreams forgetting to live!”

    Art is art when people try to find a way to be happy, to be satisfied and to permit to other to share emotions and thoughts. “This need to make, to create, to invent is, no doubt, a fundamental human impulse”.Everyone has own art. Auster’s art is writing. My art is music. I can’t imagine my life without music. Is everywhere. If happens that I don’t sing, it’s a bad day. I always sing and if I play the piano and I’m not able to perform a passage, i’m angry with myself. I have no words to explain what i think or what i feel, in fact i need the music to survive and explain myself. In need to escape from reality for some moments…also through magic story. When i was a child i loved fairy tales, but I admit that i love them more now: because help me to don’t cry, to don’t explode. For me, fairy tales are like music. If you enter in my bedroom you can see everywhere fairies and CD…everything is connected with fantasy…a world where world doesn’t exists.

    So..i think that art is useless…but it’s really important to survive in this world..! 🙂

    Laura S. (a little fair 🙂 )

  13. anonimo says:

    I think art is useful. Every kind of art can be fundamental for someone. There are person who lives for painting, for dancing, for reading, for writing, for acting, for singing etc…I really like dancing.

    Music for me is something important because when I listen to the music I forget everything and everyone. When I had suffer for something the only way to relax and to not thing to my problem,

    I turn on the music…Art is life….And whatever we done and whatever we see in not superficial, is not useless .All is useful to develop as human being and as person.

    This article is clearly a provoking and a rhetorical text. What the writer things is the opposite ideas that he explains in this article.

    Denise Martin

  14. PaulAuster2008 says:

    I can see that it is obvious to most of you that when Paul Auster claims that art is “useless” he is using provocation around which he then makes his point. His argumentation is favour of art would not have been as affective if he had not used provocation or paradox.

    Federica, thanks to his words. Let’s learn from Paul Auster: fight to do what you are meant to do, he a writer, me a teacher, and you. What? Would would you like to be? You are a gifted person, special in her sensitivity (everybody can see that from the things you wrote in this blog). Go for your way, or as Sinatra would say “do it your own way”. 😉 By “it” (for malicious readers, I mean “life”, “existence”, “work”).

    Eugenia, I think artists feel the urge to express their own sensitivity, they feel the urge to put in their form of art (be it literature or sculture or whatever) what life, existence stirs inside them. I also think that they go for it, whereas most of us are scared of expressing our own form of art, perhaps we are not strong enough to be ourselves. You mention fashion as a form of art (and I agree): how many young people do not wear the clothes they really want because they fear not belonging to a specific group? They conform to the “canon” just because they are not strong enough. This does not mean, however, that there is no form of art inside them. I think it is just a matter of strength, determination, self-confidence and coincidence (carpe diem). Then on top of this, I would write in capital letters SACRIFICE. All artists sacrifice their life for art. They work really hard, they work for their art, they are their art. If you think about Paul Auster, he himself pointed out that he spends most of his days in his study room, trying to write. As you point out Hitler was determined to do what he did, he dedicated all his life to his “unmentionable” and “terrifying”, if not “perverted” mission. That teachers us that there is “good” art and “bad” art? I think so, in the sense that art comes from human beings and we are both good and evil, so being art the reflection of humanity, how could it be otherwise?

  15. PaulAuster2008 says:

    Martina, it is impossible to know all writers, especially because there are so many. However, it is also true that some writers fall withing what I would define as “a literary elite”, writers we need to read (no necessarily appreciate and fall in love with) to appreciate certain (artistic, intellectual, human, political, ethical) trends in literature. As you point out, going to a good bookshop (not supermarkets or commercial bookshops), browsing around, asking for tips (a good bookshop owner or a good librarian will certainly be of help) will help you understand who the great literary hits are. Of course, then there is your personal taste. Then, as you pointed out, there is Dedica and Pordenonelegge. These literature festivals are meant to promote reading so they certainly invite the general public to take into consideration certain good writers/literary figures/thinkers.

    Barbara, as I think you grasped yourself, Paul Auster initially says that art is useless to question the concept that people tend to have of what is “useful” and “useless”. If “useful” implies saving lives, feeding people, etc. then art is “useless”, but if “useful” means feeding the soul, prodding emotions, sparkling ideas, promoting thinking, etc. then art is “useful”.

    Chiara thanks for your quotation “art itself is a masterpiece/a form of art”.

    As Erica points out, I would say that gifted souls need art to feel alive!

    Damiano’s “art as an act of creation” is worth considering. As to the contradiction between “coincidence” and “being a writer” you point out, I do not see it as something paradoxical. Auster himself said that he did not choose to be a writer, he could not choose, it was imposed upon him, it was an urge that came from inside (isn’t this chance?)

    Giulia, I thought “i Quindici” belonged to my generation, not yours!. My favourite encyclopaedia. I still have it and I would never part, it meant so much in my childhood too. 🙂

    Francesco, thanks for your post, I liked it. Your English is getting more and more to the point. Keep writing, boy. You are doing a good job.

    Elena, the very moment we do things that make us feel good with ourselves (in your case drawing), then I do not think we should explain why the do them. It is self-evident: we do things that give us pleasure.

    Francesco, beautiful post, really well-written. I agree with you when you state, in the end, that art will exist as long as man is on the face of this planet.

    Jana, I think we cannot be as super as human beings to think that art belongs to the human sphere only. I think there is art in nature too. A beehive, isn’t it a form of art? The sounds made by certain species of animals for courtship or mating, isn’t it a form of art? The different patterns we find of different kinds of leaves, for example. I think that human beings rely much on nature to create their own art.

    Laura, fairy tales are a good expression of human hopes, fears and desires. I love them too.

    Denise, you got the point!

  16. anonimo says:


    Yes! It is certain that art does not give you a piece of bread or a cup of milk, but it gives you something to think, something that is so abstract that caches your mind and brings you away. There are so many forms of arts like music, painting, sculpture, dance but no one of these create something to eat or drink. Art is so un-material that is a sort of colored scene that pins down your mind ( only the “rational part”, of course ) and leaves at your body a sensation of freedom and independence from any necessity.

    This need to make, to create, to invent is, no doubt, a fundamental human impulse. But to what end? What purpose does art, in particular the art of fiction, serve in what we call the real world? None that I can think of – at least not in any practical sense.

  17. anonimo says:

    Art isn’t useless. Art is the most useful thing human beings have ever invented. It’s more useful than a plumber or a lawyer. Art makes humans terribly happy or desperated, Art can create feelings and shake them as a mixer. When we feel sad and hopeless we can find pleasure in Art because we need it. As schopenhauer said art is our path towards the freedom from the life, the routine and the will that push us to live. I love Art because it brings my cares, my doubts, my bad feelings and throw away them making me feel as in a swirl of feelings and emotions. Art can stop the time, how can I say that Art is useless? Is there any other thing or creation that can stop the time and make me forget of the rest? I don’t believe so. Art is life, as the very Paul auster writes: “That is because human beings need stories. They need them almost as desperately as they need food and however the stories might be presented – whether on a printed page or on a television screen – it would be impossible to imagine life without them.”

    I think that he really doesn’t think that Art is useless if he writes it. An artist knows it: what is more beautiful than a thing that make you cry of sadness when you are happy, and make you laugh when you are desperate?

    I want to add a Schopenhauer’s quotation, it’s in italian but I like it very much, I hope it will be apreciated.

    “L’arte si deve necessariamente considerare come il grado più alto, come l’evoluzione più perfetta di quanto esiste; ci offre infatti essenzialmente la stessa cosa che il mondo visibile; ma più concentrata, più perfetta, con scelta e con riflessione: possiamo quindi, nel vero senso della parola, chiamarla il fiore della vita. Se il mondo come rappresentazione non è che volontà divenuta visibile, l’arte è precisamente tale visibilità resa più chiara; la camera oscura che abbraccia meglio e con una sola occhiata; è lo spettacolo nello spettacolo, la scena nella scena.”

    Giulia Raineri

  18. anonimo says:

    Yes, I understand your point of view, but I think that in nature plants, insects and animals in general do such things for a practical purpose: a bee builds its hive in that particular way because it needs such a shape to produce honey. A leafe has that peculiar pattern to catch better the rays of the sun. Instead human beings preduce something that often hasn’t got a practical function: we do it only because we want to express ourselves; the object has a meaning in itself, it hasn’t got a secondary purpose. As O. Wilde taught us, art exists for its own sake as art (‘art for art’s sake’).

    Jana Stefani

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