To this day I can still recall reading this Batuman essay. It’s actually been very influential in my reading and, probably, on my writing. My favorite paragraph is the one where she describes contemporary writing as “elitist and impractical” and then goes on to critique the type of drivel — my words not hers — produced by your typical MFA program graduate author.
The “rules” she lists these writers learn seem, to me at least, so restrictive and boring. All the great novelists (Tolstoy, Richardson, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Austen, Eliot, Joyce, Cervantes) break these rules with abandon. Especially the “show, don’t tell” rule, as you point out. Further, and I agree with Batuman here, the old authors and the old books I want to read. In fact, I’ve long since mostly restricted my fiction reading to the classics. Whenever I’m forced to read contemporary American literary fiction, however, usually at the suggestion of a friend or as part of a book club, for example, I’m struck by how incredibly boring and suffocating the writing is. And it’s all because of the reasons in Batuman’s essay. In fact, I’m convinced that the only good literary fiction these days, with few exceptions, is non-American literary fiction. I don’t think this is true from a authenticity point-of-view, nor am I a global south fetishist like some people are. It’s just, to me at least, those books are untainted by the MFA program and are therefore more vivacious and full of life whereas American fiction, aside from a few genre writers, is just plain vanilla.
So I’d go with Art over Craft.