“Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide.” D.W. Winnicott
If you haven’t heard about the Elena Ferrante controversy, then frankly, you’re doing Twitter wrong! Elena Ferrante is the pen-name of a highly successful Italian author who was ‘outed’ last week by a journalist whose motives are questionable at best. The story has ignited a larger debate around an artist’s right to claim anonymity and the public’s sense of ownership when it comes to ‘celebrities’.
We live in the information age, where information is a commodity. We post our personal lives freely online and have gradually lost our value on privacy, or the knowledge that we have a right to keep our private lives private. So when someone claims anonymity, we’re immediately suspicious and being naturally curious beings, we need to find out why. Like Dorothy pulling back the curtain to find the Wizard is just a man, perhaps we should leave our enigmas alone and just enjoy the show.
I can completely understand why people choose to work anonymously and without the pressure of having to present themselves to the world. JK Rowling chose the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, in order to write her detective series without the ‘shackles’ of Harry Potter around her neck. Editor David Shelley, who first read the novel without knowing who its true author was, said, “I never would have thought a woman wrote that.” I rest my case (while rolling my eyes at the stupidity of such a statement!). Sometimes your identity needs to take a back seat in order for the work to flourish and find an audience on its own merits.
Anonymity gives you freedom from expectations, limitations and being pigeon-holed. You don’t have to worry about what your Aunt Louise will think of that sex scene, or the fact that you based the psychopathic villain on your cousin twice removed. But it’s not just that; really successful writers/artists have to live with the unwanted side-effects of fame, which can be completely overwhelming. The media has created an entire industry out of destroying peoples’ image and reputation. We just assume success is brilliant; the holy grail and that if you have it, you should be happy. But maybe it’s the work that is the happiness; the creativity. Isn’t it okay to not want fame?
Australian singer Sia has chosen to keep her face out of the limelight. She refers to her decision as one of ‘self care’, by choosing not to partake in the celebrity culture. Daft Punk are another example of musicians who love to make music, but don’t see why they should sacrifice their personal lives or their privacy in order to do what they love. They’re not entirely anonymous of course, a quick search on Google will reveal their true identities if you’re interested, but the fact is that they have chosen, like Sia with her blonde bob, not to reveal their identities publicly. The important word here is CHOICE. Despite a world of opportunities, we are told that in order to be successful and happy, we have to follow a formula. It’s so inspiring to see these artists carve out their own path and find success on their own terms. However, it also utterly despairing to see inferior beings try to take their right to choose away. So the question remains, do we have a right to success without fame?
As a very small and insignificant writer and artist (in the grand scheme of things!) this dichotomy is something I also struggle with. As writers starting out, we are advised to create an author platform, get ourselves ‘out there’. Post photos on Instagram, share your every passing thought on a vlog. Do we really need to offer ourselves on a plate for public consumption? Why can’t we let the art do the talking? I don’t put my author photo on my novels, because I often find that people can have preconceptions about your work based on your appearance. As one journalist in the guardian said, if you want to know Ella Ferrante, read her books. Because at the end of the day, people who chose to express themselves creatively, are actually sharing more through their work than they ever will outside of it.
Banksy, another artist trying to keep his personal life out of the conversation – was geo-tracked (something normally reserved for chasing criminals) by a newspaper a few years ago, in order to find out his identity. A street artist, whose work often engages political themes, satirically critiquing war, capitalism, hypocrisy and greed – he is the embodiment of why it is so important for the artist to be invisible. People are fixated on the fact that he might be an upper class toff, which (they imply) would undermine his street art. And if that was the narrative to his work, the message would indeed be lost.
I think we need to question this insatiable need to know everything, to reduce the beauty of human expression to a face, a stereotype or a headline. Putting people in boxes, telling women they can’t write like men or insisting that someone plays the game by your rules will only serve to stifle creativity. I salute these people who, despite our best efforts to thwart them, are trying to create a little mystery in our lives by producing pockets of space where we don’t need to know everything, we just need to feel.
Any excuse to play Daft Punk 🙂
9 thoughts on “Anonymously Yours”
Excellent, Evie. I so agree about the photo thing – how many men on Twitter have presumed I write romance because I am female and have long blonde hair??!! I only share details about my personal life on Facebook, which is as private as my profile can be on FB, and I don’t add non-friends. I like Twitter as a social media site BECAUSE it’s about the art/blog/whatever, not the personal life. My husband does not allow pictures of himself on either site, and neither does he want me writing about our life (which I only ever do in an occasional jokey way), and I totally get and respect that.
Thanks so much Terri 🙂 I’m exactly the same, never took to Facebook at all – anything that grew out of an algorithm to rate girls can’t be good. Also I really believe in the concept that if you are not paying for it, you’re the product. Like you, I much prefer Twitter for the very reason that it’s about conversations, not collating a bunch of private info for who knows what! Totally get the blonde hair thing too 🙂
Ahhh, yes – who knows what indeed. Being sold to data mining companies is probably the LEAST innocuous thing it’s used for!
This resonates with me. I struggled for a long time with an online presence and have written a blog about my dislike of facebook. I do not like exposing my whole life on social media so am always juggling writing something – hopefully interesting – but not too personal. A real difficult dilemma for many artists. Thanks for posting!
Glad you enjoyed it! I’m probably generalising here, but I agree with you, in that I think a lot of creative types are the way they are (i.e. creative) because they tend to be quite insular. Then you’re expected to put on your showbiz hat and be someone entirely different if you want to get your work noticed. I guess each individual has to find their own balance and do what works for them. I think there is definitely a way to connect with people without getting too personal. Thanks for your comment 🙂
It’s tough because the media do tend to want photos of you and your family when covering stories. I’ve noticed they often want the personal stories too. The Indo did a nice piece on my book but neither my son or husband were overly keen on being photographed. The kids are relieved now that I have a different surname to them as their friends don’t know I’m their mum if mentioned in the media – and it’s not like I’m mentioned a lot.
I can understand journalists looking for a ‘slant’, otherwise their copy would always read the same, “Author publishes new book”. I’m not sure if Elena Ferrante knew how popular her books would become when she chose her pen-name, but one thing she knew for sure was, once you reveal your true identity, there’s no going back.
I’m definitely doing the Twitter thing wrong, I never know what is going on. I have been thinking about the whole social media/self promotion scene which can seem overly narcissistic (who’d like to be lumped into the same category as a Kardashian?) and it seems to me that it depends on your motives. If you are trying to run a business, you’d need to separate your creative self from your financial self and play both roles. Otherwise you’d need to employ a marketer and an accountant in order to not get involved yourself and that’s not always feasible. I also think your work will speak for itself and people tend to like a good thing when they see it so possibly the most important aspect of all is working hard to perfect your craft with integrity whether you use your own name or not.
Sounds to me like you know EXACTLY what’s going on, lady!! (but if you miss any gossip, I’ll fill you in!). You’ve absolutely hit the nail on the head – people know a good thing when they see it, regardless of whether you’ve beaten them over the head with your ‘promotional efforts’. I see people working so hard at raising their profile, but I often wonder, how much energy is left for becoming a better writer? Thanks so much for your comment, I love meeting like-minded people who remind me of what really matters… creating with integrity and trusting that the rest will take care of itself 🙂