Art, in any of its myriad mediums, has a schism most people don’t even realize exists. It’s a difficult idea, an oversight that’s somehow ingrained in our cultural consciousness. It’s surprisingly simple, too, when we look at it flat on a page.
The artist is not his or her art.
It seems obvious, right? Of course there’s a divide there, of course the artist is completely separate from the art he or she produces. Only, that’s not how we tend to think, or react. We walk out on this invisible bridge and never notice the transition from artist to art.
How we regard an artist very frequently colors how we look at his or her work. We make assumptions about people based on their performances or creations, but conversely, we also make assumptions about the work based on what we know of the artist.
Have you ever learned something totally awful about an actor, and when you go back to watch one of your favorite movies they happen to be in, you’re totally bummed because instead of enjoying the movie, all you can think about is how this really hot guy you previously admired as an actor just got arrested for drunk driving and smacking around his girlfriend?
Have you ever watched an interview with an actress that was so incredibly funny, where she came off as so real and down to earth and AWESOME that even though you didn’t like her movies much, you’ll still watch them, just because she’s cool?
We do it with books, too, which may seem odd to some. I mean, actors, they’re out there celebrities, right? They have no private lives because they belong to their audiences? Authors are more private, we think. Actors create art using their bodies, their voices, every part of them as the medium. Authors, we think, create something completely separate from them.
We think that, anyway. Truth is, what we think of an author REALLY colors our perception of the work.
My friend Shae has talked from time to time about author behavior and how authors behaving well can make her interested in a book she might otherwise not read. It’s a bottom line sort of thing–authors who behave well are more likely to get her money, whereas authors behaving badly–being nasty, arguing over reviews, attacking bloggers, etc–are very UNlikely to get her money.
I certainly think there’s something to that. When an author throws a public hissy fit pissing and moaning over a criticism someone dared to give their precious book-baby, it’s hard to take him or her seriously as an author. Rather than regarding him or her as an artist with a completely separate work of art, we think of a child throwing a tantrum. There’s nothing worthwhile in that. There’s nothing in that behavior worth investing in.
In some respects, it’s easy enough to separate. Author A is an ass, so we don’t read Author A. I’ll be honest, there are some people I do this with. I’ve never had a particular interest in reading Nicolas Sparks. What he writes isn’t really in my areas of interest. I’ve read the synopses and some of the major-publication reviews for his books (I work in a bookstore, so when he has a new release coming up, people ask me what it’s about), and I personally get bored with relaying the plots, because there’s a level of sameness to them that turns me off. Whatever. No author is going to be everyone’s cup of tea.
What I find personally repellent, though, and the reason I will probably never read a Nicolas Sparks book and will certainly never buy one, is his attitude, his unflagging belief that only men can write anything of true legitimacy and we poor women simply lack the emotional and intellectual depth to rise above mere chicklit. I’m not a huge fan of the term chick-lit, and to his partial credit, neither does Nicolas Sparks seem to be, though his distaste is usually in regards to the term being applied to his writing. But, for the sake of general perception, we’ll let the term go in favor of getting to the deeper reality: Nicolas Sparks is the king of chicklit.
His books are out-of-the-box bestsellers, he has movie deals panting on the heels of contract announcements, and the overwhelming majority of his readership is female. His books are love stories. Sometimes bittersweet, sometimes shadowed by Issues, but they’re enthusiastically devoured by women.
But Nicolas Sparks says his books aren’t chicklit. He says they’re “love tragedy”. (Anyone who can tell wtf love tragedy is as a genre is a much smarter person that I am)
Through interviews over the course of years, he’s expressed abhorrence at the thought of being grouped with writers such as Jennifer Weiner, Jodi Piccoult, or Sophie Kinsella- in other words, female authors who are generally dismissed as writing chicklit. Or for the slightly more PC term, women’s fiction, which is really just as limiting and only slightly less derogatory.
Reading his interviews any time he’s asked about genre or similar writers leaves me genuinely angry, because I come away feeling like if I were one of his readers, he’d be insulting me for giving him my money.
Now, I really don’t know anything about Nicolas Sparks beyond those interviews. Well, much of anything, and scuttlebutt from booksellers who’ve worked his signings probably doesn’t count to a holistic view of a person. He may be a really good person, a great husband, a great father, a genuine guy who most people would personally admire. I have no idea. But when I’m being honest with myself, which I try to be, I can admit that I generally assume him to be kind of a douchecanoe. And that is based purely off the public perception I have through his interviews and question/answer periods at signings.
Having never had a particular interest in his books anyway, my assumptions about him don’t particularly bother me as a consumer. I’m not torn by the divide between the artist and his art because I’m not interested in either.
But sometimes, it is so much harder.
Tessa Gratton already talked about this more eloquently than I ever could, but if you’re any kind of sci-fi nerd (or even if you’re not, and just pay a smidgeon of attention to the internet at large), then you’re aware that there’s a huge kerfuffle in the fandom of “Ender’s Game”.
It’s a cult book. It’s hard to take someone seriously as a sci-fi nerd if they haven’t read this book. Fans have been waiting for the movie for two decades.
But the author is, in a very public way, someone who devotes great time and energy to hating significant portions of the population. He is someone who actively pursues not just the limitation of certain rights that should be seen as innate, but actually wishes harm on those people and those who support them. It’s not just time and energy he puts to these endeavors, either–he also puts his money to it, money he earns through the sale of books like “Ender’s Game”.
So it leaves his fans with a choice: get more of the books they genuinely love, because whatever his personality and outlook, he’s a hell of a writer, or stand on principle and refuse to buy his products, thus reducing the amount of money he has to put into disenfranchisement and hate.
And it’s HARD, when you really love the work. I remember the first time I read “Ender’s Game”. I’d previously read “Enchantment”, and loved it, but then the summer between high school and college, I was working at a Boy Scout camp, and my friend Casey loaned me a stack of books to get me through the summer. I think they lasted me about a week. This stack included “Ender’s Game”, “Ender’s Shadow”, “Children of the Mind”, “Speaker for the Dead”, and “Xenocide.” I really liked Game. I LOVED Shadow. Children, Speaker, and Xeno gave me my first appreciation for what books could look like when they ran amuck from the author. (Honestly, I kind of thought the trilogy was a hot mess) But I reread Game and Shadow a lot, and the idea of a well-done movie was terribly appealing.
And from what I’ve seen of the movie publicity, it looks like this production might be just that: well-done.
And a movie isn’t a book. Yes, an author flourishes when a movie does well, but it’s a different creative vehicle. The movie belongs to the director, to the producers, to the screenwriters, to the actors, to all the crew and everyone who works on the film. Is it really fair to punish all of them because you dislike the author of the original text?
But if you’re contributing to the general well-being of someone whose views you find abhorrent, aren’t you helping to spread those views, albeit unintentionally?
I don’t know the answer. I know a lot of people have chosen to boycott the movie, boycott the books. Those fans who agree with Card’s views are likely, for equally passionate reasons, to see the movie multiple times, buy multiple copies of the books to balance out. But I also know I haven’t been able to read Game or Shadow since I learned of Card’s outspoken views. I’ve tried, because I genuinely do love those two books, but I find myself looking for his views in the text. It’s hard to separate what he wrote from what he professes.
I know I wouldn’t want anyone to blur that line in my own stories, in my book. I know I wouldn’t want anyone to look at Ophelia’s passive acceptance of a number of abuses and wrongs and think I in any way believe that to be how things should be. We create worlds separate from ourselves. We invest ourselves in them, certainly, but they’re not our manifestos. It’s easy to argue that we our book should buy judgments of us only as writers.
Easy to argue–a lot harder to live by.
Until next time~