Jim Hines used humor effectively to make a point about book cover art in a post where he photographed himself imitating the poses of female characters on fantasy book covers, with notes on how difficult or painful he found each one.
Hines argues that paintings showing women in physically unrealistic stances are less effective at marketing stories:
My sense is that most of these covers are supposed to convey strong, sexy heroines, but these are not poses that suggest strength. You can’t fight from these stances. I could barely even walk.
Rose Fox of Genreville found his ideas persuasive enough to recommend extending Hines’ argument to a rule:
It’s easy to think that because men look absurd in “women’s poses”, women would look absurd in “men’s poses”. Instead, these comparisons make it clear that there are absurd poses and reasonable poses, and we need to ditch the absurd ones altogether and use the reasonable ones for everyone.
The examples Hines analyzes are pretty mild – none of that 1930s brass brassiere stuff, just some women wielding swords and some others in confident poses. And nobody’s objecting to putting images of women on book covers per se, although I sense a tension between Hines’ avowed focus on marketing, and Fox’s call for a new orthodoxy requiring all cover poses to be “reasonable,” which seems to have a different political center of gravity.
Hines’ choices to advance his case inventively, and to write in a lightly mocking tone, are more helpful in luring an audience. While he delivers more than one layer of meaning, if his goal is to change an artist’s future work it may suffice to plant the simple idea that unrealistic poses make bad art.
Of course, Hines will be up against art history, which teaches that it’s not true that unrealistic poses make for bad art. Sometimes they make for highly-regarded art. Consider two examples, one by the French sculptor Rodin, the other by an unknown Olmec artist:
Bacchus in the Vat by Rodin
Acrobat by an Olmec sculptor
Is Hines’ primary concern whether artwork helps sell books? Then military realism does not trump everything else. Anything that makes commercial art successful cannot be indicted out of hand. Physically demanding, acrobatic poses may be eyecatching for their implicit difficulty, or for their resonance with famous images in the reader’s experience. If the cover engages a prospective buyer’s attention, hasn’t it done its work?
Postscript 1: One of Hines’ targets is the artwork on the cover of John Ringo’s Queen of Wands. Upon seeing this, my first question wasn’t whether the pose was physically awkward, but why a book named after a Tarot card features art more appropriate to the Two of Swords? Why doesn’t that undermine the cover’s effectiveness as a marketing tool? Because as little as I know about Tarot, most people know even less? Thus I am forced to raise the question of whether complaints from people with specialized knowledge – like whether a particular stance is good for swordfighting — come from such a trivial slice of the audience that they have no effect on sales at all?
Postscript 2: If military realism really does trump everything else – wasn’t the most realistic use of the sword in combat illustrated in the first Indiana Jones movie? That is, don’t bring a knife to a gun fight? Ergo, there should never be a blade on a book cover.
[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]