Wednesday, November 6, 2019
From the school of...
My first day back from our trip to Florence and Rome (it was lovely, thank you so much. Oh, you'd like to hear about it in exhaustive detail? Well, I mean, if you insist. Visit here daily for the next month or two then and that should do it) I was shelving some James Patterson books in our teeming James Patterson section of our library, when i noted that he collaborates, a lot. Scads of people are constantly writing with him, dozens, maybe hundreds. I suppose one needs a bit of help if one is going to churn out a couple of books every month (or is it a couple of books every week?). But he is by no means alone in this. There is a whole vein of bulk bestseller authors, like Janet Evanovich or Clive Cussler, who constantly team up with people you never heard of to keep their writing empires churning along.
Of course this has been going on for awhile in publishing, and I have been aware of it. But two weeks in Florence and Rome suddenly cast it in a new light: This is not remotely new to the arts! Back in the 1400's and 1500's and so on, many of the big time artists whose work my wife and I were seeing in churches, palaces, and museums (sometimes a bit of all three at once) were running their own little private art industries. They called them workshops and as far as my limited understanding of them goes they were probably a combination of apprenticeship schools and maybe a decent living for less entrepreneurial and less brilliant artists. One of the most uneven excellent artists I have seen ran a large workshop in his successful career: Titian. The huge quality variation on his paintings I suspect stems from how much he painted on a painting. I'm pretty sure there are more than a few "Titians" that involved him coming on to an almost finished painting, worked up by some stalwarts of his studio, in order to do a few final highlights. He might be a bit of an exception in terms of how good he could occasionally be though. The exception that proves the rule. Ghirlandaio might be a better example, a very fine painter with a thriving workshop in Florence, who produced much wonderful work that, despite having just seen several million examples of in Florence, I can't for the life of me remember any of. For the most part the really great artists, burning up with creative energy, have a slightly smaller body of work, and it's pretty clear that geniuses like Leonardo and Michelangelo (briefly apprenticed to Ghirlandaio!) not only have that more modest body of work (with loads of it unfinished), but they're also the sort of people who simply can't abide help. These Van Goghs and Caravaggios of the world tend to work alone, very, very alone.
So I use this to explain the James Pattersons of today. He's not working with people exactly. I figure he's more like throwing his "co-authors" a quick outline, maybe a few guidelines, and a couple characters. Then these sort of studio assistants are writing the books according to it all as best they can. Then ol' James comes in to add a few highlights, some signature flourishes of the master, so to speak.
It pays the bills. Many, many, many, many, many bills.
But it's not the kind of thing you'll see Kafka doing.