June 3, 2011

dear jonathan franzen

silent rhythm
Silent Rhythm 8" x 24" oil on wood panel

How do you ask a famous person a question? I have never read anything by Jonathan Franzen so I'm probably not even allowed to talk to him, but after hearing his Kenyon College address (see last post) I have read a few articles about/ interviews with him online and would now like to send him this letter:

Dear Mr. Famous Author,

I thought your essay on love, published in the New York Times and delivered to the Kenyon College graduating class, was brilliantly insightful, so I started reading stuff about you online. That’s when I ran into a contradiction. Or is it? In this article you admit to writing to please readers but in your recent essay you state:

The striking thing about all consumer products — and none more so than electronic devices and applications — is that they’re designed to be immensely likable. This is, in fact, the definition of a consumer product, in contrast to the product that is simply itself and whose makers aren’t fixated on your liking it. (I’m thinking here of jet engines, laboratory equipment, serious art and literature.)

As an artist I struggle regularly with this question. Do I make likable art or do I try and subtract the human element from the equation in an effort to make something more 'serious'?

Best wishes to the wife and kids,



INDIGENE said...

This is so beautiful, the blues, the pop of reds!! It takes my breath away!!!

dinahmow said...

If "likeable" = "saleable"( and it usually does ) I think you know the answer.Happy the man/woman who can make serious = saleable.

I just spent half a day looking at a local art exhibition.The overall impression was that these hobbyists are merely amusing themselves.The selling artists are doing good work, technically speaking, but they're sitting on that dread "comfort plateau" without pushing their own boundaries.Locked in by the dollar factor, I suppose and, perhaps, a fear of losing customers?

andrea said...

I: Thank you!

Di: Also a fear of stretching themselves because taking themselves out of their comfort zone causes them to put their self worth in jeapardy. It's as much for their own self-perception as for the bottom line I think.

jo rosenblum said...

Thank you for the link to Jonathan Franzens' speech the other day. I found it thought provoking and has been a topic of discussion with some of my friends.
We all hear what he has to say in our own way, different people focus on different aspects...for me it's the continuing struggle to embrace your flaws, and those in the people who surround you, not expecting perfection in them, embracing or being able to go towards reality knowing just how messy that can be...in a way taking risks for the right reasons, being a bit brave.

andrea said...

Jo: I have returned to it at least twice because it is so full of good and important ideas that create such a ripple effect. The love is messy one is the best I think. And by the way -- I have ordered a couple of his books from the library so I can see what else he has to say. :)

Ellen said...

I think he answered that in the speech when he said, "If you're moved to try to return the gift that other's peoples fiction represents for you, you eventually can't ignore what fraudulent or second hand in your own pages. These pages are a mirror too....You find the only ones worth keeping are the ones that reflect you as your really are." Seems to me that can be applied to any creative pursuit, and the result would show the contrast of creating art or just making pictures or writing great fiction than just stringing together words to make stories. The human element is even more involved in the former than removed from it. I have The Corrections, I can lend it you next I see you.

Ellen said...

Lend it TO you, next TIME I see you. Sheesh, one day I'll proofread before posting.

andrea said...

I think I really like what you just said but I'm not sure I understand it. :) You are the second person to point out something I missed in his speech so I really think I need to listen to it again.

Yes, please, I'd like to read The Corrections. I actually have it in my hot little hands right now as I ordered it from the library, but three other books I want to read turned up at the same time (typical!): the Discomfort Zone (his memoir), In Defense of Food (recommended by you!) and How Should A Person Be? (finally!) and there's no way in hell I'll be able to get through these and keep renewing them, so a book without a due date would be great.

Anonymous said...

Good letter that raises some significant points. I hope you sent it. I sent one a couple of years ago to Bill Bryson and actually got a personal reply from him. I rather cherish that.