The first thing most folks say when asked to quantify or measure art is the hoary chestnut: "art is subjective" thing. This is true. This is also a cop-out :) Of course, we all see a piece of artwork differently, and that's kind of the point. The muse's feather, brushing against someone's hind-brain, inspiration then spat out through an imperfect medium and absorbed into another brain, via their own life experiences, their own wiring. If the travel of an art-form from creation to consumption were mapped like a circuit board, it would be the most wasteful circuit ever, losing power and capacity at every turn.
Despite this rather frustrating truth, art is awesome. Couldn't live in a world without it. The creative squeezings of the human brain are, quite possibly, right up there on the apex of human achievement, but more importantly, art is our humanity at its purest, its most important. It's the way we see ourselves, offered up in a heady mixture of truth and bullshit. Beads and mirrors for the human race, offered up by the muses, shiny pretties that, on the face of things, don't amount to much. Does an artist build bridges, farm crops, heal the sick?
If an alien intelligence were to gauge the value of human occupations, I've got the feeling that our skillsets would come pretty low on the list. Can't use a sonnet to unclog a dunny, a marble frieze can't feed anyone, and you sure as hell can't deliver a baby with a string quartet. But all of these things are WORTHY. Because art brings resonance to our existence, and again, holds up the mirror to humanity.
When thinking of the writer as the artist, I would argue (with some bias) that we are the best sort of artists. For we are the bullshit artists. In no other medium does the creator get such leeway, such a scope of opportunity. We're not bound into the forms and modes of a visual medium, and don't have to operate to the rules (or lack thereof) of music. We scribblers get the chance to connect directly with someone else's brain, and I'd even daresay that our medium has the least loss of power in the Muse-Creator-Consumer circuit.
That's not to say that writing isn't without its own modes and restrictions, but we writing folk can perhaps more easily bypass these. It's oh-so-easy to just let the writing mind slip its gears, and since the ascendancy of literature, abstract art has never been easier for humanity to reach. In genre writing for example, there's some amazing stuff in the slipstream genres, a true marriage of the fantastic and the impractical. But damn, when someone gets it right, it keeps me interested, in ways that dragons and moon-rockets and vampires stopped doing several years ago.
When writers give themselves permission to fail and dance about on tall ledges, the results can be glorious. Again, in the scope of genre writing, where suspension of disbelief is much more central to most of these premises, upping the ante becomes that much more difficult to pull off. In Lee's own parlance, no-one remembers the bus drivers of fiction, but everyone remembers the fighter pilots, the guerrillas and the rebels.
We're also the most frequently imprisoned brand of artist, but it's not always the journalists and social commentators who end up behind bars or punished in courts of law. Song-writers, novelists, poets, comic writers and playwrights. The dude who writes an inflammatory statement on a wall, probably even a jingle-writer or two somewhere along the line. Punished for creativity, for saying things that rock the boat.
So, all hail the bullshit artists, the dabblers in the abstract, guerrilla fighters in the war on literary mediocrity, on mediocrity full stop. When we writers get it right, when that imperfect circuit board operates at something near to full capacity, it's like the muse's feather gently brushes against both writer and reader, in an almost religious way. In fact, you could say that it's an Art Tickle of Faith.
In closing, writers may sometimes be arrested, but incorrigible punsters are usually lynched.