Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Math and the Artist's Career

by Hannah Roveto

I was reading Rolling Stone yesterday, not because I am cool but because I was waiting for back-to-school haircuts to be completed. The current issue has an interview with Robert Downey Junior, who is, as far as I'm concerned, an artistic genius.

He was talking about his career and what a single choice can mean. People used to say to him, "Hey, I remember you in Weird Science; loved Less than Zero." By that latter movie he'd been in a dozen films, plus a season on Saturday Night Live. His achievements, he said, were like an algorithm -- a moveable, complicated process. Now, he says, people point to him: "Iron Man!" With that choice, Downey said, he has a fixed point from which to build.

The last time I took a math class was in high school. Calculus, actually, and that was pretty much the point when I switched with a happy heart to the humanities. But algorithms and fixed points -- the process of a career and its successes -- got me thinking.

As writers, we hope -- try -- for fixed points, one after the other. In part for ourselves, but in part for business reasons, truth be told. We want our stories to resonate and stay with the audience, to create a deep connection. The annoying thing is that -- as with other kinds of artists -- we don't get those starry successes every single time. This career is two-faced, the art and the business, and we can never forget it. And we worry.

What I like about Downey's math analogy is that it provides a long-term rationale for pushing forward, for not letting one moment make or break your determination. Yes, you can have a career and go along for a bit without a fixed point. If you keep at it, if you are smart about it, you will create one. Why am I so certain? Because what must be done comes not from the outside world, but from inside of us. We keep going, we keep creating. It is in our souls. Not to say we shouldn't be strategic. Many writers take pseudonyms to restart careers, extend careers. Or consider John Irving. His first three books didn't get the reception he thought they should have (career as algorithm), so he took his fourth book to a new publisher. That book, of course, was The World According to Garp (seriously fixed point!).

I have had relatives, neighbors and friends in this business; I have been lucky enough to absorb their experiences in preparation for my own. I know there will be times when my career might be more of a process; I also believe that with hard work, belief and determination, there will be points of achievement to stand upon over time, as well.


Lisa said...

What an incredible insight. Great post. (and I love Robert Downey Jr. too!)

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

He's one of those artists whom you know are brilliant, even if the current work isn't everything it could be. Although it's harder for writers (and painters, and such) as the work is a solo (or close to) production. Still, it's the long haul that counts, either way, yes?


Larramie said...

As soon as your algorithm and fixed point align, Hannah, we'll be reading an interview with you in PW!

And Robert Downey, Jr. earned a place in my heart when he started his comeback on the small screen in Ally McBeal...ah, how perfect his character. ;)

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thank you, Larramie! And yes, how can one not love him? He is many things, among them an incredible actor who plays whatever part he has taken to its fullest.


ORION said...

And I think making sure you are still writing for yourself and your vision- for me this is the most important part- there are so many subjective qualifications to success.
I am such an admirer of Robert Downey Jr. an example of perseverance in spite of poor personal decisions.