Deborah Jackson

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Michelangelo and the Artist’s Vision

Should we continually adapt, adapt, adapt to suit someone else’s vision?

Michelangelo was an arrogant fellow. He had his own vision for his artwork, and it certainly didn’t coincide with the artists of the day.

Years ago, shortly after I completed my university degree (although it wasn’t in art or art history) I travelled to Europe, student-style, and visited the standard castle-cathedral-museum train of must-see spectacles in the tourist brochure. Of course there’s obvious aesthetic and cultural reasons these particular stops are included on the list, but as a science major, they often didn’t have the same appeal and eventually you grow weary of yet-another-church, of yet-another-museum, of yet-another-vineyard-where-you-must-stop-and-sample-the-wine (well, maybe not that one).

We stopped in Paris and visited the Louvre where I saw Mona carefully cushioned within her bullet-proof display case, viewable but untouchable, and still smiling—would you believe it? We wandered through the south of France, tried our hand at | the | slot | machines | in | Monte Carlo and wound our way through the
                                                               of Italy, where we dropped by Florence. I’ll never forget Florence. And in case I would, I took photos.

I'm in this one. Bet you can't find me.

The thing that struck me the most about Florence was the architecture, the vistas, the friendly Italians, the David.

Before we could breathe, or even begin to absorb the flavour of Italy, both Renaissance and Twentieth Century, or watch the street artists capture the vitality of the city with broad brush strokes from the Ponte Vecchio, we were whisked off to Rome.

The most magnificent feature of Rome was The Colliseum, The Forum, The Trevi Fountain (where yes, I threw in a coin, and no, I haven’t returned yet) The Sistine Chapel. I’m sure many of you would disagree with this assessment, and it was particularly odd for someone so philistine, so unschooled in the arts, (and not Catholic) to be enraptured blown away by Mike’s achievements.

As I flip through my photo album, I see everything Mike.

How did that get in there?
When in M√ľnchen, do as the Munchkins.

My daughter is taking visual art and art history in school now. She’s educating me on all things artsy. I’m learning to appreciate abstract art. I’ve come to understand modern conceptual art-modern conceptual art (although not appreciate it—a brick is still a brick in my opinion) (and don’t get me started on urinals). I now know a  Baroque  from a Renaissance from an Impressionist painting. She didn’t know the word for bust and I had to educate her—sometimes it feels good to one-up the expert ;)
It shouldn’t surprise you, though, that the first book on art that I chose to read was one called Michelangelo. I didn’t simply discover more about the art, I discovered the artist. Mike was temperamental, stubborn, worked on his own model of perfection, disregarded the critics of the day and grumbled, grumbled, grumbled about having to paint for various popes when he preferred sculpting. Mike became an expert on human anatomy, studying corpses and revealing humans in twisted, flexible poses rather than the rigid norm. Mike worked reluctantly on the Sistine Chapel, but he achieved something no other human being ever has, in four years time. He didn’t want to paint; he was forced required to, but heck if he wasn’t going to paint his own vision of the Bible, human beings and the world.

I often wonder if we’ve stepped away from writer as artist. I know genre writers aren’t given credit as artists—we’re the poster producers of the art world. But since we’re mixing our own paints, choosing to
                   s p l a t t e r,
                                                   p sponge, or 

                                      b r u s h 
on the texture of our novel world, since we choose our canvas (be it science fiction, thriller, or literary), and then spend months, if not years, improving the image, should we not be allowed to create our own vision?

I’ve sat through a number of agent- or editor-author critique sessions with my manuscripts, and I kid you not, every single agent or editor has a different vision for your work. They often want you to change it to match what they think will sell, or take on the appearance of what they have a particular affinity for. They won’t insist you change the canvas, but everything else, every brush stroke, every tenderly rendered expression, every unusual curvature has to be altered. They’d like to tear down the Sistine Chapel and rebuild it in their own image.

The ideal agent/editor is the one who sees your vision, and loves it. They only want to help you perfect it.

It’s very difficult, if not impossible to be Mike. But it is possible to strive to become the best you can be, and once you think you’ve reached that pinnacle, don’t compromise. Be the artist. Because if you’ve put in the time and used your incredible unique imagination, some readers are bound to “get” your vision.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Forgivable Lapse

Are you In It for the Long Haul?

It probably doesn’t surprise you that I enjoy watching sci-fi and paranormal television shows: Fringe, Grimm, Supernatural, The River. I also watch medical shows like House and Grey’s Anatomy, but that’s beside the point—and has to do with my background and expertise rather than my fascination/obsession.

The other day I was watching Supernatural. I know, the stories are often silly, but it’s the silliness, the sentimentality, the downright goofiness that often makes it endearing. In the beginning the characters drew me in as slickly as the supernatural component: two brothers (and hunters) who rely on each other to survive; who are polar opposites in disposition and skill (one college-educated with a knack for doing research and a preference for health food, while the other is adept at Samarai sword-fighting or rock salt rifle-shooting and would rather drown in booze and hamburgers); and they  have quirks like adopting the names of elderly rock stars for their aliases as FBI agents, or drinking demon blood. But more than the characters, it’s the episodic nature of the series, along with tongue-in-cheek humour, that make it appealing (for me).

I know this particular brand of writing is likely more difficult to write—coming up with a new concept every week—than simply continuing with an ongoing storyline. But I found when the writers decided to be lazy, focus on a single dramatic storyline, the show began to deteriorate. If you’re familiar with the program, you’re familiar with the extended plot:  a battle between heaven and hell, demons and angels. There’s very little room for comedy or goofiness in such a battle. The characters soon became worn, guilt-plagued, dreary and the added characters of angels and demons were universally arrogant, self-centred and greedy. There’s only so much back-stabbing, gut-clawing or incised brows that you can take. Even so, even wringing my hands with irritation, I continued to watch it, but my husband strayed. I kept hoping the writers would return to their original format, and I loved the characters enough to allow for this lapse. This season, the writers finally clued in; undoubtedly they lost a number of viewers, like my husband, when they lost their sense of humour.
I’m sure the same thing happens to you with novels. If authors create beguiling/arresting characters, you will keep reading the next book, even if their plot occasionally stumbles and becomes less than captivating. George R. R. Martin has invented several interesting and surprisingly human/flawed characters in his epic story, with just the hint of magic or supernatural activities to lend to the label of fantasy. Even the wretches have perfectly reasonable reasons for their wretched behaviour. But in Book Two, A Clash of Kings, the plot dragged and I found my mind wandering. Still I returned for another dose of fantasy-fulfillment with Book Three, A Storm of Swords. He’d set the tone so well at the beginning with these wonderfully relatable characters that readers were willing to forgive a lapse in intrigue in the hopes that the author would slingshot back to what drew them to the series in the first place.

Supernatural, in this season, has returned to its roots. Episodic, humourous, goofy but in a good way, intriguing in that a new situation arises every week. I love it! I’m smiling again. :)
A Storm of Swords pulled me under as only a vortex can with the same tense character situations, totally surprising plot twists that don’t balk at killing off some of the most appealing protagonists or devilish antagonists, and the throwing together of unusual characters at every turn. I’m smiling again. :)
Yes, if you’re a real fan of the style, the characters, the talent of writers to create this otherworld that you adore, then you’re willing to forgive the occasional lapse. It happens. Of course we’re all human, and writers can be lazy tired, cranky frustrated, occasionally dreary uninspired, blocked unproductive or lacking in depth unable to tap the surface. Sometimes fresh material eludes them for a while. And sometimes their brilliance re-emerges. I’m willing to wait, one year, two, one book, two—sometimes even more—because I’m in it for the long haul.