Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Art or the Artist?

I’ve always thought it a funny cultural quirk that people seem to want to like an artist (writer, movie star, athlete, director, or politician) in order to appreciate their art. This is probably in large part because we live in an age where it’s so easy to find out everything there is to know about a person. Our 15 minutes of fame is now and the odds are you can Google just about anybody and find them.

It’s always been prevalent with movie and TV personalities. There’s probably no better current example of this than the plunge Tom Cruise’s career has taken based on his horse’s ass personality and loony tunes philosophies. I sort of feel sorry for him. I’ve always been a Brad Pitt kind of gal though, and despite the tabloid coverage of his silly global antics I’ll still watch just about anything he stars in because I think he’s a genuinely talented actor.

I started thinking about this yesterday when I talked about Woody Allen. My post didn’t include anything about the scandal with Soon Yi Previn, but I’m well aware that there are a lot of people who found his behavior so deplorable that they won’t watch his movies. Maybe to some of us, it’s a matter of principle. Maybe some of us believe supporting the industry of someone we find morally reprehensible to be socially irresponsible. I’m not sure I think that’s it though.

This trend seems to have bled over into the other arts where who the creator is should be irrelevant to how we feel about the work and how they look should matter even less. I’m not especially interested in writers’ or artists’ personal lives so I don’t associate their work with what they do. If Annie Proulx hated puppies and kittens or Dave Eggers was in love with an orangutan or Michael Chabon was a necrophiliac, I can honestly say I wouldn’t care and wouldn’t even want to know.

I care even less whether the author of my favorite book looks like George Cloony or the elephant man. I read a list of 13 writing tips yesterday on Chuck Palahniuk’s website. Number 11 was: “Get author book jacket photos taken now, while you're young. And get the negatives and copyright on those photos.” I read a post on another Blog – just yesterday -- about the impact to sales that a youthful, attractive photo on a book jacket has versus one that – well -- probably really looks like the author. If that’s not a lot of pressure, I don’t know what is. There was a time when the stereotype of either an artist or a writer was that of an eccentric who probably wasn’t overly attractive (think Gertrude Stein or Truman Capote) and was maybe anti-social or reclusive (think Thomas Pynchon or J.D. Salinger). Now writers are thinking about glamour shots and image; as if writing well wasn’t hard enough.

It’s hard enough for me to figure out what to write and how to do it, so I’m planning ahead to save time. I’ll be auditioning body doubles to appear on my book jackets and attend book signings in my place. Once I’ve written a new classic for the 21st century and whatever pseudonym I've picked is a household name (obviously I can't use my own name and let the media find out all the dirt), you can be sure I’ll be hailed as the youngest, sexiest looking middle aged woman in America. Let me know if you have a candidate for my pseudo-face in mind.


Scott Mattlin said...

Some interesting and pretty funny ideas here.
Your thoughts confirm my belief that we live in an appearance-obsessed society, which is unfortunate, and personally a bit unnerving as I approach the ripening age of 52!
(Damn; it's getting harder and harder to find those "elastic-waist jeans"!:)
As for YOU, Lisa; need not worry. You ARE still beautiful, and if ANYONE has no need for a 'body double'; would be you.
You ARE the sexiest-looking middle-aged woman in America!
Of course;..THAT'S simply MY opinion,;...yet remember this.........: I photograph and paint beautiful, sexy women for a living!
Love, -S

Nic said...

Good morning!

I found this article on my daily surfing travels and thought of you.

Happy Thursday!

Big Hug,

Lisa said...

Scott...I think you are "ripening" beautifully. Like fine wine...

Thank you for the lovely comments.


Thank you for sending the link. I guess we are all searching for creative ways to express ourselves. Look out restaurants with early bird specials...the baby boomers are on the move!

Leslie said...

Very interesting stuff. I think it seems to matter more for performing artists because it can be difficult to separate them from what they do when you are watching them do it - challenging to separate the actor from the performance. I also think it is more difficult to become a successful artist - because your work needs to stand on its own -not attractive to your audience just because of your rockin' body and sexy good looks... It is easier to separate the painter, sculptor or writer from his or her work than an actor, don't you think?
And I agree with Scott - you've got absolutely nothing to worry about :)

Therese said...

I've been meaning to stop by here--am linking your blog to mine so I can easily find you again!

Anyway: thoughtful post about a topic we discussed a bit at The Writers Group blog a few days ago (or last week?) as well.

Have you seen/heard the term "book hot?" Authors who win this tag get a bit more media attention, which may help sales...but I wonder if it has much effect in the long run...

I think I look okay, but I'm far more concerned with making sure I write okay!! Your forethought about hiring a double, combined with your determination to write well, should make you a shoo-in. :)

Lisa said...


I had not heard the term "book hot" until you brought it to my attention, but it doesn't surprise me! I'm a little baffled since I never believed the photos had any impact on my decision to buy a book. Now that I think about it, since I've recently spent a lot of time looking at the websites of authors I'm not familiar with, I probably do make some unconscious assumptions. I've never been stylish or glamorous -- 13 years in the Air Force took care of that -- more of a tomboy without a clue about hair or makeup, so it's probably an unintended prejudice of mine that I don't spend a lot of time reading about an author I don't know if they look too perfect. I probably am more interested when I see a photo of someone more "real" looking. It would be interesting to know how much impact the photos have on sales if you break the "book hot" authors down into genres. I'd be willing to bet it's much more important in genres that appeal to younger readers, but I may be deluding myself.

I am very curious about Souvenirs because the writing on your Blog is fantastic. I may have to order a copy from a UK bookseller when it's released this summer. As far as looking OK, I think you are a very fabulous and youthful 40 and a happy belated birthday to you!


Lisa said...


Big apology! Your novel, Souvenir, not Souvenirs...

It won't happen again :-)

Therese said...


Thanks a bunch, Lisa. And no apology necessary!

I am a tomboy at heart too, btw.

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf