The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Balancing Roles

It has just been announced that DC Comics is planning a prequel to "The Watchmen", for my money the finest comic books ever written, a 12-part series that opened my eyes about the potential of the medium. There has been an outcry against the company from those who believe that the original artist's wishes are being disrespected. My sense is that Alan Moore sold the rights to the characters, it has been an entire generation (twenty-five years) since he wrote the original work, and that hey, I'd really like to see more adventures of these characters.

On my Facebook page, a controversy flared about the separation of business and art, some saying that a person can't be both an artist and a businessperson. I've simply known too many people--personally or historically, who have juggled both to believe that in the slightest.

An imprecise but useful analogy would be to compare the two states to the "child" and "adult" selves. The child is in touch with her feelings, knows what she wants, often feels like the center of the universe (balanced with moments when she feels totally powerless and meaningless.) That child has all food and shelter provided, and has never made a connection between action and results, or understood the nature and purpose of money. The adult self is more calculating, has had to make hard and painful decisions, often has cut off emotional flow in exchange for producing indirect results. The child does because it feels good in the moment, the adult "does" because of future benefits, or in reaction to past experience.

The child, alone, cannot survive. The adult, alone, is pretty much a zombie, moving through a grey existence without the "juice" of life. In truth, these two polarities overlap, but I hope you see the point that the two must cooperated to create a rounded human being.

Many artists live in that first category--they care about their feelings, their work, their writing or dancing or painting, and pretend not to care about money. Nonetheless, they rail against the immoral and barbaric editors/agents/publishing industry/etc.

The joke, which few of them ever get, is that if they start their own publishing firms or film companies, if they hire other artists, in time those artists will have the same complaints about them that they originally had about others.

The reverse, of course, is that the editors, agents, publishers and so forth who complain about "childish" artists and actors, if they themselves produce personal expression, will transform into the same self-centered emotional beings if they aren't very careful indeed.

I suspect that this war between polarities explains much of the dissatisfaction with politicians, bosses, spouses, genders, and much else--we are assuming corruption or dysfunction when what we really have is a lack of understanding of the roles each side is playing in the matter.

We must be both artists and businesspeople. To balance between them is the only way to both find deep self-expression AND control the rewards we receive from our labor. If we cannot connect with the artist, we must hire artists to entertain us. If we cannot connect with the business-person, we must hire, or be in the employ, of those who WILL assume that position. That works fine. But if we aren't aware of the "war" between male and female, child and adult, artist and businessman, politician and citizenry, it becomes easy to mistake the role for the individual, and forget that we ourselves agreed to participate in the dance.

Only one who grasps that dichotomy can step back and determine when an opposite number is actually corrupt, or merely fulfilling their role in the drama.

Balance, again, is key.



Shady_Grady said...

Hi Steve.

Interesting. What is your take on Moore's comment, (paraphrasing) "that all this tells me is that they're (DC) still desperate for ideas I came up with 25 years ago"?

Steven Barnes said...

That Moore's "creative child" is in control. Another view might be "The characters I created 25 years ago are still alive in the public consciousness. While I want nothing to do with it, it is an honor that other creative minds want to plant in the field I first plowed."
"Desperate" is an unnecessarily derogatory term, and is pure ego. Nothing wrong with that, but we must take such comments with a grain of salt. Was Moore "desperate" to incorporate classic characters into "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen"? Oh, please.