A story presented in artist bios—what inspired this structure?
Imagining your bio, or someone reading your list of credits, is something that I think a lot of young artists do before they have any credits to talk about. At least I did. Once I actually tried to write one, however, I found that it was an anxiety ridden experience and one for which I was unprepared. I worried what including certain information and excluding other information would reveal about me. I started reading bios to see what I could learn about writing them and a piece sort of emerged out of that.
I am interested in the relationship between the artist and her work and the bio is this strange, perfunctory, and false expression of the artist. Its goals are so amorphous. Who is the bio for, I found myself wondering. For other artists? For patrons? For consumers of the art? Does the bio change the piece of art?
I was surprised to find that there is a poetry to the bio, a rhythm and a grammar that is unique to the form. Reading them requires a strange form of calculus because the details people reveal about themselves often don’t reveal anything at all, but the decision to include those details tells you more about the writer than the details themselves. The reader often has to unpack all the little coded messages included in the bio to understand how the artist is trying to position herself.
Also, I wanted to make up a bunch of funny names for literary & arts mags.
If you could include something outrageous or less-known about yourself in a traditional bio, what would it be? Or in lieu of a bio, what might you include that represents you in a unique way?
This question reveals me as a critic of the process with no real solutions of my own. There are so many things that wouldn’t traditionally appear in a bio that have shaped me and my fiction.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have a chip on my shoulder, for example, and that I am deeply paranoid and neurotic, but how am I supposed to express that in a 50-word bio without coming off as disingenuous or unwell? My relationship with my family, the experience of first seeing a Magritte, of attending a lecture Jim Jarmush gave about his work, of embarrassing myself at a party, of strange experiences I had as a kid, are all things that contribute to my perspective on the world, but that do not fit into the understood form of the bio.
Also, like a true hypocrite, I want my work to speak for itself, but I want to be able to use biographical information to contextualize the work of others. I want to be known to a reader, but I also want to remain private and keep my secrets hidden.
Maybe everyone should just be forced to reveal whether or not they understand Major League Baseball’s infield fly rule and that will tell us enough about the writer to contextualize a story.
Read Matthew's story "The Ineluctable Necessity of Self-Promotion."