Friday, February 03, 2006

False Expectations and the Dichotomy of Art and Personality

One of the hazards of poking around the Internet is that you can run into people you feel you know. People you don't actually know, mind you, but feel you have some claim on because of their publicly available work. Writers are classic for this, but it can happen with anyone who offers a portion of their personal creativity up for public consumption: painters, musicians, dancers, athletes, you name it.

It happened to me today, and now I'm feeling a little let down. Because an author who's work I adore, and whose lead character is one of my favorite novel characters of all time isn't at all what I expected him to be. It's unfair, but there it is. Where I expected someone witty, quirky, and stylish, classy perhaps, I got someone, well..., crass. And the crassness doesn't alter my opinion of his writing, but it still dissappoints me. Like I was expecting a friend, and got someone I wouldn't want to sit next to on a bus.

The sad thing is that it is frequently thus, but that doesn't alter the expectations. Someone can be sublime in print, transcendant in the notes, and excreble in real life. Wittiness cannot be created from nothing, but there's no law that says the person who writes wittily has to manifest that in their daily life. Madeleine L'Engle's mother was always dissappointed that Wagner, whose music she loved, was such an awful person. Christie Brinkly noted after her divorce from Billy Joel that there's a tremendous difference between being able to write a wrenching love ballad, and being able to show your emotions to your loved one in your daily life.

It does make me wonder, though, what opinion people will form of me by reading what I write, and whether I would meet or destroy their expectations if they met me in person. For that matter, it makes me wonder if they would expect very different people if they were to read my non-fiction writing as opposed to my stories. At the moment it's not much of a concern, seeing as how I have no published fiction, but someday that might change. I suppose if and when it does, somebody will probably meet me after reading, and either tell me "You're just as I expected!", or just possibly, feel the way I'm feeling right now.


paula sarut said...

how interesting that this very topic arose in my philosophy of art class yesterday. even more interesting is how i am bored and putzing around the 'net looking for those points of connection through art, writing, expressions of difference experiences. i find this phenomenon really interesting, but perhaps just as interesting (and more common in my life) is meeting someone, raising them up on a pedestal, only to have them climb down, uninterested in being raised up above the rest of us. indeed, i've been pushed up onto similar pedestals, and have no interest in existing there, so....perhaps it all boils down to our expectations vs. opening our eyes to who someone "really" is.....and choosing to view them (and subsequently ourselves?) with a sense of equanimity....i don't know. but i love that you wrote what you did.

PerpetualBeginner said...

Thank you, Paula. You're right, I think it is a similar phenomenon to putting people on pedestals. A tendancy to see what we like of a person, and to forget that the best parts of someone are never all there is.