21 September 2011

Artist abuser

I am currently reading Picture perfect by Jodi Picoult and although I'm nowhere near as captivated as by My sister's keeper, but I keep reading, even if it was to see how Ms Picolut will deal with some cliches and character stereotypes/archetypes. And while I'm at characters' stereotypes etc, I thought I'd use one of Picolut's characters for my next, a little overdue, post in Believable Characters series.

Cassie, the main female character is married to Alex  - a drop-dead gorgeous, charming man, who is an actor admired and desired by milions of women. Cass loses her cool, scientific head and falls for him, they have a perfect wedding with a dres flown from PAris (or maybe Milan, doesn't quite matter), and then he whisks her away to his world. And here starts her married life - full of surprises.
I haven't actually finished the book, because I got a little bored somewhere half way through. It's a bit obvious what would happen, but to be fair to Picoult Alex is a picture perfect portray of an Artist Abuser.

I have tried to come up with a better, more evocative name for this stereotype/trope, but couldn't. So in the end I've decided to use V.L. Schmidt's term with a little twist - Artist and Abuser is actually an artist abuser, becuase the abuse is usually well hidden and often these couple would appear 'picture perfect' to outsiders.

Key characteristis
Artist abuser is a man of emotions, or rather - emotional storms: from exalted love to angry rage, he switches within seconds. Whatever the emotion, it's passionate, it's full-on. He's good at expressing emiotions, but rubbish at mastering him, which often leads to emotional and even physical abuse, even if he doesn't want to harm the person he's with he can't keep his anger under control. Many AA are genuinely loving men, who really suffer seeing the extend of the damage their rage have produced. That's why in the attempt to make up for the damage, they want to sweep their partners off their feet and shower them with their love.
Some of  AAs however are more sinister and use their abilities to manipulate people, particularly in close relationship, mingling his abuse between acts of generosity and display of love and passion. Whatever the motivation, AA is the master of 'double bind'
AAs attract women because of their passion and ability to access and express emotions, and channel them into creative acts. They are also often artists - painters, writers or actors- just like Picoult's Alex Rivers.

Relationships: AA attracts women who admire his talents and fall for the intensity of his emotions. Their love story is usually short, intense, full of romantic moments and acts of 'crazy in love with you' (e.g. Alex's impromptu trip from Arfica to USA to bring Cassie snow she happened to mention she was missing). If he says 'You are the only person who could understand me/I could ever talk to..' on your Heroine's first date, wants to move in with her on the second and proposes on the third beware! He may be an Emotional Abuser! Their dedication and infatuation with the Heroine can often turn into jealousy and posessiveness.
Obviously, AA's relationships are full of passion, fantastic sex and romantic moments - what makes him different from any other romantic hero is the darker side of his emotions - anger and violence.
They also often emotionally dependent on their partners, like Alex on Cassie, but deny it. They may substitute drama and excitement for emotional intimacy.
To the external world AA often look 'picture perfect' - madly in love, passionate, fun-loving, that's because the abuse happens at home.

Typical back story:Usually Artist Abuse has been a victim of emotional, or even physical abuse in his childhood. Often he has a father, who is an AA himself, or a Femme Fatal as a mother. Sometimes he would have withdrawn paretns, uninterested in him at all, almost unloving, like Alex Rivers in Picture perfect. They grow up in emotional storms, whetehr external (e.g. parents' arguments), or internal (own emotions - hate, anger, unmet needs to be loved and appreciated), and since they never learn how to contol these forces, they just let it happen. They have to fight for the attention of their parents, prove their worth (Alex' father wanted a tough boy, not a softy Alex grew up into), gain their accceptance. Their self esteem and confidence suffers and they often have to resort to 'crutches' like threats, violence, or put a front on to appear stronger than they are.

Typical jobs: any artistic profession: actor, writers, painter, singer, you name it.

Vincent van Gogh - Self-portrait in front of an easel
Photo from Wikipedia, Creative Commons

This hero wants to be someone important and achieving his goal is it's to-be-or-not-to-be. For him every little argument or a minor cough is a fight for life. He's full of passion and thirves on extremes and he does not want to miss any opportunity to experience it.
He's in the spotlight all the time, playing the role of his life, and one not-so-favourite remark or a dry smile can in his opinion destroy his career. He does not trust others, and often has a need to control them.

Biggest fears:
He fears himself - his angry outbusrsts and potential for hurting the loved ones; he does not want to hurt people. he does not like criticism and perceives it as rejection - if one person doesn't like his artwork, he may see it as his own artistic death and destroy what he's created. As an artist he is scared of loosing his creativity and a minor 'writers block' can cause a major emotional breakdown.

Potential for growth:
Having an Artis Abuser as your hero gives you an instanenous internal and extarnal conflict between his and your heroine -his passionate and violent nature create intense push-pull in their relationship. But on the other hand, if you want your Heroine to have HEA with AA, you have to make sure he changes, and changes for good. The growth would usually have to happen around his ability to control his emotionas, particularly anger. But this may create furtehr complications, as he may fear if he harnesses his passionate anger, he may lose his muse compeltely.
You may also need to make him find other ways of improving self esteem than being violent or manipulative.

Examples from literature and film: Vincent Van Gogh, Tristan from Arthurian lenegds, Othello

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