An artist is one who does not live on the timeline that connects the events that take place around us.
That’s Brian O’Leary. Know him?
Rather, the artist sees the actors, events, and collisions all at once, from a vantage point that few others share.
O’Leary is one of the most committed thinkers we have working in publishing today. A consultant to industry players and organizations, he’s a former Time production director; an adjunct professor in NYU’s publishing MS program; a Harvard man.
Living on the observation deck makes for tough sledding.
He knows what he’s talking about. O’Leary likes to capture this article or that, frequently as a physical clipping, muse on it for days or weeks or months, then finally sift it out of the pile and wrap a few observations around it in a blog post at his consultancy site, Magellan Media.
The artist can see and question what everyone else takes as given.
The lines I’m quoting here are from one of those pieces: his essay Admirable and Unnoticed: Today can last another million years. It’s the latest in his long-running series of takes on everything from unpaid internships and other forms of piracy to crowd-funding, journalism, branding, and reader-focused strategies. Those topics are just from this month’s O’Leary posts.
But how do you find ways to talk about the unseen?
Well, we know the answer to that one, don’t we? You become a writer. So you can talk about the unseen. Report on those things you perceive and question, those things “everyone else takes as given.”
That’s what O’Leary is on about here. In this case, his “clipping” is a tweet from March. A colleague tweeted during one of O’Leary’s conference presentations, I never know where the authorial voice & its unique value fits in @brianoleary’s utilitarian/network model of publishing. The question was, in short, how does O’Leary see the author’s place and role in publishing?
What O’Leary ends up asking about that authorial voice is this:
How do you buy legitimacy among people who have no idea what you’re writing, describing, or illustrating?
In short, we have a friend in O’Leary. For all his career’s focus on those “utilitarian” aspects of publishing in its digital disarray, he, too, listens for the writer:
In great art, we look to the artist—to (that) “authorial voice”—to lead us somewhere else, somewhere felt, likely not seen. That’s simultaneously important, and uncomfortable. There are no easy answers.
There’s a surprise embedded in what O’Leary is doing here, a surprise for us who are writers, who @amwriting. I am writing, you am writing, we am writing.