Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Philip Blackpeat is responsible for at least two works of fiction. One, The War of Art, is available for $21.95 (hardcover) and $11.95 (paperback) from various Internet booksellers. The other is his pen name, which separates the work of Blackpeat the author from that of the Washington lawyer he is in real life.
He considers the false identity a necessity, not only to his career, but also to his art. “I decided to go with a pseudonym for the simple reflection of the fact that this is a case of making things up,” he says. “Contrary to popular belief, lawyers don’t make things up.”
Unless, of course, they’re writing works of fiction. And Art, a breezy 134-page read, is a little too X Files to be anything but. It follows Philip Melanchthon, a—drumroll, please—Washington attorney ostensibly hired by a possibly evil art collector to investigate a Picasso with a bit of history. There are twists and turns and a fun—if wholly unbelievable—Mulderian climax, around which Blackpeat scatters a few clever observations (e.g., “Washington, of course, was suspicious of tans. It viewed tanning salons, to which a busy politician might repair for a semblence of vitality, as only slightly more disreputable than brothels”) about hoity D.C. culture and the nature of art and literature.
“I’ve been thinking for a long time about…the relationship between art, propaganda, and politics,” Blackpeat says about his first foray into fiction writing, which encompasses, among other things, a mind-control organization based in Tysons Corner, Nazi agitprop, and the question of whether Marcel Proust might have enjoyed sexual congress with women. “I sort of had a choice of doing nothing about [these issues] or spending centuries of research to write a scholarly, nonfictional work,” Blackpeat says. “And in the end,I decided to make it up.”
It’s a move that enabled Blackpeat’s press representatives to breathlessly place him next to such unscholarly but widely read authors as Dan Brown and John Grisham in The War of Art’s promotional materials. But Blackpeat insists that his work is not an attempt to make art academia more palatable for folks who normally stay away. “I think that art is already close to the masses,” he says, citing the “long, snaking lines” outside the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Instead, he says, the book is more about the flexibility gained by the departure from his everyday, brief-preparing life, in which he’s also been published—though only in what he calls his “area of legal expertise.” “That was part of the elation I felt when writing this,” he says. “I had the absolute freedom and license to make it up.” —Mike Kanin