Bookish Heroes

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-05-12 12:00:00 No comments

Someone said to me the other day: "Snap your fingers and get rid of a literary trope for all time." I snapped my fingers and said, "Let's have an end to the trope that a character who is an artist or an avid reader automatically makes them a protagonist."

I get where the trope comes from, I really do. Many authors were themselves the quiet kid in the corner who just wanted to read and invent a world or six. All of us who ever sat in that corner like to tell ourselves — and it's justified! — how artists speak for humanity as a whole through their work, and so on. Consequently, it's tempting to think giving someone creative or aesthetic inclinations makes them interesting, but it doesn't — not automatically, anyway.

Here's an easy counter-example. Think of all the novels about writers and painters and poets and so on who were all insufferable jackasses, and whose stories were justified as being interesting because of the prevailing mystique of the artist. (God spare me from any more novels about professors having intimate relationships with brilliant students while their marriages fall to pieces.)

It's not that I think the kids in the corner with their books need to go outside and play more kickball. It's that the whole way we foster unconstructive mystiques around creative types does them, and the rest of us, no favors. Stories about artists in general mostly exist to confirm to the creator, and to other artists, and the public in general (in declining order of importance) the moral superiority of a life lived for creation's sake at the expense of other things, and the idea that the narcissism of the creator is a direct source of their power. (I almost wrote "his", but then again, most of these stories are about men, so there we go.)

I am also uneasy about the idea that I am automatically supposed to find someone more interesting because they are a painter or a novelist rather than, say, an auto mechanic. I've known some greasemonkeys who were fascinating people, all the more so because they just embodied their character so casually. And I've known some Artists with the cap A who were god's greatest and most insufferable bores. How you embody whatever it is you are is more interesting to me than just what you are.

Tags: creativity creators writing