Saturday, October 4, 2014
The Artist As His Own Subject
I don't know if I've ever mentioned this here before or not, but recently I was struck by another similarity between my core trio of artistic inspiration (Frazetta Jones Williams) - they all served as their own models frequently. In fact to an extent all of Frank's male protags resembled versions of himself - which is also true for both Jones and Williams. Even when Williams is working from models he often makes them look like himself. In fact there was a bit of a kerfuffle back when I first joined Conceptart and mentioned that one of his paintings was (I thought) a selfie. Somebody responded that it was one of Williams' friends named Kelly. I said that it was a case of all of his art being a reflection of his own worldview, his own experiences, and that many of his subjects come to resemble him, and got a standard internet sarcasm/irony response that I was just moving the goalposts to cover my snafu. While it's true that I actually thought it was a self portrait, I wasn't just covering. I could tell that Williams suffuses his work with himself - his own attitudes and feelings, in much the same way Hitchcock did as one of the affirmed Auteurs of filmmaking. Hitch's actual physical cameos were actually just a tongue-in-cheek reflection of the fact that every frame is suffused with his personality. In a sense every character is a reflection of some idea or fear of his; some aspect of his own personality.
Fritz Lieber did the same with his writing (the Fafhrd and Mouser stories). And I picked that up from him at some point and started doing it in my own very amateur writing. I don't remember now if it was mentioned in some foreword or something that his characters were based on himself and his friend and the stories were peppered with their actual experiences and interactions, or if I just picked up on that subliminally. But my friend and I were writing about ourselves at the time and had been all through school, starting when we first met in third or fourth grade. It was high school time when I discovered the Fafhrd/Mouser books (thanks to the Jeff Jones covers of course). At that point my writing took a nice turn toward somewhat less amateurish, probably partly because I decided to "write what you know" as the old adage goes. Our superhero characters of previous years had no real inspiration from reality, they just had our names. But as soon as I started using settings that I knew well and events I had actually experienced, the writing took on an authenticity and a wealth of details that you can't fake - it's like drawing from life. I was literally drawing my ideas directly from my life.
Depending on how an artist does this it can be simply narcissism, it can become overweening and solipsistic, or it can be inspiration and information lending authenticity that really sells it.
I remember when I first read Tell Me Dark (what an experience that was!) I could immediately tell that Williams had actually taken a trip to England with digital camera in hand and recorded massive amounts of material for translation into graphic novel form. For this reason, and because he's so gestural and able to break free from complete slavery to the shapes in his reference material, it had a powerful authentic quality you don't find in a lot of GNs.
There's art that tries very hard to be objective. That's the Classical model I suppose - presenting a believable world in objective terms, requiring the artist to first divorce himself from the fact that everything he experiences is actually completely subjective. In fact no matter how objective a person tries to get, all he really has to rely on is his own experiences and his conceptions of what other people must experience. So in a sense a subjective presentation is much more honest. You just have to be careful not to overdo it and end up with something solipsistic and entirely self-referential (or self-reverential for that matter!)