In defence of privacy ... actress Jodie Foster poses with her Cecil B. DeMille Award. Photo: AFP
Actor Jodie Foster didn't exactly come out last week.
When she accepted her Cecil B DeMille award at the Golden Globes, the 50-year-old waltzed around the issue of her sexuality (she is a lesbian) by pretending she was about to - ''I guess I have a sudden urge to say something that I've never really been able to air in public . . . '' - and then skewering herself with a joke: ''I am single. Yes I am, I am single''.
Foster did acknowledge her former long-term female partner, but then she did something much more subversive than announce her homosexuality to the world. She told the world to back off, to get out of her bedroom. She told the world to respect her privacy.
Foster, a former child star who starred in her first television commercial aged three, said that anyone who had been in the public eye for as long as she had would also value privacy above all else.
''Privacy. Some day, in the future, people will look back and remember how beautiful it once was,'' she said.
Reaction to the speech was mixed - it was called ''baffling'' and ''conflicted''.
One silly writer for The Guardian said Foster had ''lied by omission'' by not publicly acknowledging her sexuality much sooner, and claimed she had a duty to other gay people to do so - a strange form of reverse discrimination which reasons that gay celebrities must somehow bear a higher moral burden than heterosexual ones.
Foster's impassioned defence of privacy, and its corollaries - discretion and silence - is blasphemous in a world where we know what celebrities have for breakfast, who they are sleeping with and, in select cases, thanks to the paparazzi art of up-skirting, what their vaginas look like.
Foster has no duty to other lesbians, or her fans, or the world at large, but she does have a duty to her two sons, who presumably live a more peaceful existence if their mother is out of the glare of the media.
Ironically, the renewed focus on Foster led to speculation that her sons, who were present for their mother's speech, were fathered by her long-time friend Mel Gibson. Presumably this is exactly the kind of thing she sought to protect them from.
For artists, the problem of where the personal ends and the art begins is an old one but it's an increasingly difficult line to tread in a world which demands constant personal revelation.
What do you give to your art, what do you give to the press to promote your art, and what do you keep for your family? And when the temptation is there to tweet and Instagram all your best material, what do you keep for yourself?
Last week, the American poet Sharon Olds won the TS Eliot prize for her collection Stag's Leap, which documented the collapse of her 30-year marriage, after her husband left her for another woman.
As a confessional poet, she was always going to use the heartbreak for her work. But the poems are being published more than a decade after the events they depict, because Olds promised her two children that she would leave a decent interval before she publicised their family's life for the sake of her art.
''It seems to me bad enough to be in the family of an autobiographical poet … without me actually talking about it,'' Olds told the The Huffington Post.
The chair of the judging panel, poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, said Olds's work was a ''a tremendous book of grace and gallantry''.
Olds's discretion, and her patience, contrasts with the work of many young artists working today, who wring their personal lives out for public consumption.
Actor and writer-director Lena Dunham, the creator of the hugely popular show Girls, which depicts the marvellous mess of four girls loping through their 20s in contemporary Brooklyn, draws heavily on her own life for her work.
The 26-year-old is a cult figure who provides her fans with constant life updates on Twitter and Instagram. She does all her own sex scenes, and they're all pretty graphic. The cameras capture plenty of cellulite and all the characters are made to look ridiculous, in different ways. Presumably Dunham wants her art to ring true, which for her, means it has to be real.
She lets it all hang out and her audacity becomes her art.
Sheila Heti is a 36-year-old Canadian writer whose recent book How Should a Person Be? has been called a literary version of reality television. She refers to her true-fiction style as ''open source'' but in an interview with The Observer she said she would never write in the same way again.
''I understand why people write fiction now. A lot of complications can arise,'' she said.
''Fiction is a way for writers to preserve their friendships and their romances.''
Both Heti and Dunham have been accused of narcissism. Fame can have perverse effects if you write about your life for a living. Once you become famous, your existence warps and suddenly you have less authentic fodder for your writing.
It was ever thus, of course. Female writers tend to cop more flak for mining their own lives for fiction - Sylvia Plath was long considered an inferior poet to her husband Ted Hughes, partly because she wrote about babies and love in a confessional style, and he wrote about life through the lens of nature, among other things.
That all changed with his last published tome, Birthday Letters, which was his long-awaited poetic response to his relationship with Plath, and her death by suicide.
Birthday Letters was published a few months before Hughes's own death, at 68. He had waited 35 years.
Jacqueline Maley is parliamentary sketch writer.
Peter Hartcher is on leave.