An Open Letter to Adam Roberts
Hi, Adam --
I'm pleased you're a working science fiction author because as a driveby art critic, you're a mess. In your July 17th post about the Hugo Awards, you labelled the work of four of the five Best Professional Artist Hugo nominees as dull and mediocre, and not deserving of Hugo recognition. You're entitled to your opinion, just as all fans are. Being one of the five Hugo nominees in this category, I can safely speak for myself and all of the pro artist nominees in that we all relish good criticism. It's part of being a pro.
That said, hopefully you and I will someday sit down at a con and have a beer together. We have a shared love for science fiction. Both of us wish the best for its progressive growth. We have mutual friends. Many of them speak highly of your ability as an sf author. I hear that you're the kind of challenging author that I love to cover-illustrate. That said, even if I just have the pleasure of reading one of your books someday, I hope I'll actually be able to find one.
I applaud your self-appointed stance as a champion of literary excellence and that you demand excellence of the rest of the sf world. However, in doing so, it's only fair that you live up to the same. As an art critic, you fail miserably, sir. Two statements you make in your post that betray you as a poseur in this regard:
1. Of the work of Donato Giancola, Dan Dos Santos, Bob Eggleton and myself, you claim that the work is "conventional; all surface technique and no soul; artworks exactly like and in not one quarter-degree superior to pretty much every SFF novel or magazine cover printed since 1966."
Response: Since 1966, you say? "Pretty much every", you say? Sounds like you worked overtime to calculate that one. Since you've so conveniently couched your opinion as fact, I'm sure you'll be willing to enlighten us with your well-researched thesis about 43 years of sf art from which your conclusion no doubt originates (maybe somewhere within your labyrinthine HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION?). Pardon me if I don't hold my breath waiting.
2. A second excerpt from your blogpost: "Remember, Fandom, my question is not: are these artists competent, because clearly they all are. But are they the best? What are they doing that is new? That stands out? That shakes or moves or inspires us? The moleskin-notebook doodlers on Skine-art produce more interesting art than this in their spare time every day. We can do better. Or—and this is the angle that worries me, Fandom: or (sic) you really think that these images are the best that visual art can be?"
Response: It's up to me to make the decisions within my own work. It's up to the audience to judge how it assimilates into the culture stream. It's up to me to make my work the best I can, and once done, I leave the value judgments to the audience, and to history. That said, I'll leave you and the rest of the world to judge my work, but as a working professional artist, I'm qualified to make the case for three very worthy 2009 Hugo Award Professional Artist nominees, Donato Giancola, Dan Dos Santos and Bob Eggleton. You say that "the moleskin-notebook doodlers on Skine-art produce more interesting art than this in their spare time every day." I took a look through this site which you claim is more "interesting". I encourage all to do the same and make their own judgments. Meanwhile, I offer the following personal opinions on Giancola, Dos Santos, and Eggleton. (Readers please note that I'm also a huge admirer of Shaun Tan's work and he's equally Hugo-worthy, but he wasn't a target of clumsy generalization and therefore, not relevant to present discussion.)
Why I believe Donato Giancola is Hugo-worthy:
This is Donato's cover art for THE GOLDEN ROSE. It not only displays a masterful command of oil paint but packs an emotional wallop. Technically, it's one of the richest oil paintings I've seen on an sf/f cover in 2008. Note the rocks vs. the foamy tide; the undertones of the fish skin vs. those of the human skin; the textures of the tentacles vs. those of the neighboring seaweed; the triangular shapes of the tide echoing the triangular shapes of the rocks. All of this interplay is happening within a simple but dynamic birds-eye composition that frames the forms and drama in perfect measure. The body language of the figures is gut-wrenching and engrossing. To call this "soulless art" signals character flaws within the accuser, not within the art or the artist. If this is "mediocre art" that shows sf/f in a poor light, then go talk to the Society of Illustrators New York who are very much NOT a genre association and recognized this painting with their highest 2008 honor -- the Hamilton King Award, awarded to the outstanding illustration of the year by a peer group of some of the most respected American artists.
Why I believe Dan Dos Santos is Hugo-worthy:
This is Dan's cover for POISON SLEEP. What I love about this one is it's an ingenious and unconventional compositional solution that doesn't succumb to the formulas of a standard mass-market paperback. The color scheme is restrained and smart. It stands out versus its adjacent competitors on a given bookstore shelf. There's an economy of form here, and a delicacy in the skin tones, expressions and gestures. It does what only the very best book cover art does -- draws the reader across the store to pick up the book, while standing on its own as a compelling piece of visual storytelling.
Why I believe Bob Eggleton is Hugo-worthy:
Bob will never be confused for artists pushing the envelope of genre art, but in fact, that's his super power. He's unapologetically in love with pulp, and while that may not be my personal cup of tea, his work regularly seduces my eyes, unlike any other living pulp-loving painter. That's a pretty neat trick when pulp is not my primary interest and yet I enjoy it when Bob does it. Paintings like this one are why his work connects so powerfully with the sf audience. They transport viewers time after time, and his brushwork is some of the most emotional that we currently have in the sf field. Some may argue that Bob's thematic wellspring doesn't speak to the present time, but I think that's precisely his point. I think he's consciously trying to use the fantastic to remind us of simpler times past and future, and and he does it as well as anyone ever has in sf art.
Adam: You attempted to make the case for sweeping change in the Hugos (which is very much your right), but you utterly failed to make a convincing case why one form of visual art is more desirable than the current nominated choices in the Best Professional Artist category.
Instead, you displayed that it's much easier for you to wield poorly-crafted generalizations, a familiar trademark of amateur writers. Again, your opinions are your right, just as they're the right of any fan, but it's a working professional's equal right to call you out when you pound your chest, demanding excellence, and yet don't expect the same of yourself in this conversation. I'm disappointed that someone of your regard prefers to be just another intellectual bully trying to look oh-so-cool and above reproach, lobbing cheap shots, while trading on his reputation. Science fiction is my field too, and it deserves better than that.
Again, I hope we can have a beer together someday. It would be a sincere pleasure, and I mean that with no sarcasm. And one last thing -- should you again decide to take potshots at Giancola, Dos Santos, or Eggleton, please bring your A-game next time.