I’ve had a couple of very interesting conversations since I posted my preliminary Hugo ballot. Both centered on my inclusion of Richard Powers as a probable nominee for Best Professional Artist.
I placed Richard Powers on my preliminary ballot on the strength of the cover art of Eclipse Three. I’ve listened to several interviews with Night Shade Books publisher Jeremy Lassen where he talks about how he got this particular cover for the book. Any mistakes here are mine, but as I understand it, Lassen contacted the estate of Powers and asked if there was any unpublished artwork available to use for a cover. It just so happened that there was this one particular piece of artwork which had been commissioned several decades ago and for whatever reason, was never used or published. At this time nobody knows what the original commission was. Lassen, no fool, snapped up the art and used it for the cover of Eclipse Three. It’s spectacular.
One of my first thoughts when I decided to purchase a supporting membership to this year’s Worldcon was that I had to recognize the Powers cover. I absolutely love it.
There’s only one thing. Richard Powers died in 1996.
I received two e-mails asking me to reconsider my potential nomination of Richard Powers for the Best Professional Artist Hugo.
Now, the conversations I had were private correspondence, but Lou Anders was gracious enough to permit me to publicly use some of his words here.
The conversations were not simple “Dude, don’t give it to Powers”, but were rather well reasoned explanations stating that while the Powers cover is excellent, the intent of the Best Professional Artist Hugo is to recognize the art of artists working today and who are actively producing new work. The Powers cover would be akin to finding a long lost novel from a deceased master.
I do not believe I was following the awards at the time, but was there ever a campaign or a conversation around nominating The Children of Hurin for a Hugo? That would be a similar case to the Powers cover. Or, let’s say that sometime after Harlan Ellison is no longer with us, Last Dangerous Visions is finally published and everyone recognizes that compared to Last Dangerous Visions, the discovery of fire and the inventions of the wheel and sliced bread really weren’t all that impressive. Harlan gets nominated for whichever of the two Best Editor Hugos he is eligible for. We’ll ignore various impossibilities of this happening and just accept it for a moment. Though Last Dangerous Visions may indeed be excellent, such a nomination would not represent the state of the genre today.
Lou Anders responds to this,
I think you hit the nail on the head yourself when you said LDV wouldn't represent the state of the genre today and I think that's what an annual award needs to do. Again, Powers was just inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame - which is utterly appropriate and LONG OVERDUE. He's a giant. But he's not TODAY's giant.This is the heart of the issue and the conversations I’ve been having. There is a distinction in the name of the category, “Best Professional Artist”, that suggests the award is not honoring a single work, but rather the body of work over the previous year.
Can a single piece of art, no matter how good, honestly outweigh the collected output of a working artist? If, as Lou Anders says, “artists have fought so hard recently for the Best Artist Hugo to be a reflection of current work”, do we do a dishonor to working artists and to the spirit of the award if we nominate and vote for work produced decades ago?
This is where I waffle.
The Powers cover was first published in 2009. This is not a case of Lassen recycling a cover that was previously on the market. So, from the perspective of a fan who wishes to honor a single piece of art which can be considered one of the best works published in 2009, the work of Richard Powers for the Eclipse cover certainly qualifies and merits a nomination. This is also a particular cover which reflects a 70’s aesthetic while still presenting as modern and something today’s artists would do well to aspire to.
On the other hand, the arguments of Lou Anders and the other correspondent are sound and they hold water. While Powers does fit the letter of qualifying for a nomination, there is a serious question of whether Powers fits the spirit and intent of what such a nomination should stand for. Also, the cover of Eclipse Three is only one piece of artwork and the category is intended to honor the body of work published in a given year. Once again, does one piece of art outweigh the collected output of a working artist who produced multiple pieces of high quality art?
I don’t know what I’m going to do. I am honestly torn between honoring an excellent piece of art that may have been produced thirty years ago and using my nomination in the spirit in which the Best Professional Artist is intended.
It’s something to think about.
I very much appreciate the courtesy of the e-mails and the conversations which resulted. They caused me to think through the nomination more fully and they challenged me to become more informed about a somewhat vague category and about the artists working within.