Thursday, July 31, 2008

Art vs. the Artist

So... you guys have probably seen this. Well, I don't want to turn this into some grand political debate, but let's just say that I vehemently disagree with Orson Scott Card on this issue and many others. More than that, he subscribes to a world view that is so different from my own that it's hard for me to accept that he's not being satirical. I think his stances on homosexuality, family, and women are just downright wrong. That's my opinion. I respect his right to believe and say as he pleases, and I respect the opinions of those who disagree with me.

But I've granted Card a hell of a lot more than respect over the years. As a kid, the Ender series were among my favorite books. They spoke to me in a way that other fiction did not. It was a huge part of my adolescence, and, in many ways, those books got me into sci-fi, which got me into other geek stuff, which eventually got me into comics. I owe a lot to my love of Card's work.

I guess I don't really have a point here. I mean, it's not like I didn't know he felt this way, but to see it out there, so unequivocally, and in such an over-the-top tirade... it just has me wondering... as consumers of art, how obligated are we to evaluate the art on its own merits, regardless of the character of the artist? More importantly, is there a reverse obligation? One that requires us to consider who benefits when purchasing a piece or body of work?

Card is not the only example out there, I'm sure. So, second printers, I ask you... how do you reconcile the art with the artist?


guttertalk said...

You're raising an issue that I've been mulling for several months now. I was never a big Card fan: I read the first two books of the Ender series, but they didn't compel me to read more. But Enchantment was different: after reading it, I thought it great fantasy.

Since then, he has said several disagreeable, even obnoxious things, but I try to leave that at the door of fiction. But bored, I picked Enchantment up again and reread. Sadly, his faults and opinions jumped out: it was far more preachy than I remembered. He took his straw-woman digs at feminism and promoted his ideas on premarital sex. It really wasn't that good: not awful, but a so-so book at best.

At this point, especially after columns like the one you link, I won't buy another of his books. That particular column is wrong on so many counts I don't know where to begin, but his assuming the victim mode as a way to attack people asserting their rights is just lazy, double-standard rhetoric. Yes, there is such a thing as freedom of religion, but as we all know from history, religion can be bigoted, as they are in the case of homosexuals. (Card's own church has an unfortunate history of bigotry . . . so if they were wrong about blacks, why not about gays, as well?)

But in contrast, I'm well aware of Bill Willingham's politics, which often seep into Fables, but I don't it's unfair. Those characters could be understandably conservative in the ways Bill has written them, and I have the stories entertaining. I've read of the liberal criticisms of his comics, many of which I think are unfair.

I live in Texas where I have to accept conservative opinions, or I wouldn't have friends. Many of those conservative friends are good people, though I might disagree with their politics.

The same can be said of some books and comics. I know Saul Bellow is conservative, but the man has written many fine books. Likewise, I wholly disagree with Cormac McCarthy, his claims of increasing violence, and his opinion of the nature of people, but McCarthy writes beautifully.

There are hacks and there are authors. Similarly, there are diatribes and attacks and there are political opinions.

I don't think disagreeing with an artist's political or other opinions is enough to dismiss their work. But if that artist is using his wealth and influence, then you have every right to say you're not buying that person's work.

snell said...

True story...After the whole Soon-Yi debacle, my mother refused to watch any more Woody Allen movies, on the theory that she couldn't support anybody so immoral.

I thought this was muddled thinking, that the art was separate from the artist. If we discovered that Da Vinci was an axe murderer, would that invalidate the Mona Lisa?

Then again, my movie tickets and DVD dollars unquestionably do support Woody, and therefore his lifestyle choices. So am I on ethically shaky ground?

On the third hand, if someone told me I should boycott work by X because he supported gay rights, I would dismiss that call out of hand. So does saying I won't buy books by Y because she opposes gay rights make me a hypocrite? Free speech and commerce only for those I agree with?

Ah, f#$% it. I've got more comics to read...

Baal said...

I choose not to buy producst that are by people producing them for an agenda (conservative or liberal) but most times a creator being an ass hat isn't germaine. It's just when they get so hateful that I can't forget it when I try to enjoy their product it's time to drop them. I can never again read a word by Card without knowing he hates me without ever having met me. He doesn't need my dollars then.

Siskoid said...

I can usually separate art from artist, even if the art is fundamentally about that artist.

I'm a big lefty, but I love Fables and The Unit. I'm essentially atheistic, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying Paradise Lost. I'm against drug use big time, and yet I have most of William S. Burroughs' output on my shelves.

It doesn't matter to me, and in fact, I welcome being plunged into a worldview I don't share.

As for authors who are horses' asses, well that's their business. I dare say everyone's someone else's jerk some time. If the price of genius is being a right asshole, well, so be it. It's probably why I don't like meeting artists, musicians etc whose work I enjoy. It has no bearing on the work itself, in my view.

Anonymous said...

i have lots of opinions with which many folks disagree.

If I limit my artistic experiences to those created by folks who agree with me, my world would be small indeed. I don't think that being a quality writer/artist/musician/etc has any bearing whatsoever on the truth/falsehood/quality of someone's opinions - they're wholly orthogonal topics.

Seriously - can you think of some political issue where Frank Miller and Alan Moore would agree? Wouldn't we be poorer if we only had one of them?

Baal said...

But if Miller and Moore indulged in hate speech you'd still be cool? If they declared that whatever subset of humanity you belong to is sick and vile and should be locked away unseen you'd still read their works the same way? There's disagreement and then there's finding out an artist is a potentially dangerous loon.

Garnet said...

Baal, which of the artists referenced are a "potentially dangerous loon," or is engaging in hate speech? I can't really see any, though of course you can drop an artist for any reason you like.

On a related note, see Card's assessment of Mamma Mia!, especially its treatment of gay characters, here:

Josh said...

If there were a living artist whom I found so loathsome that I don't want my money to reach his pocket, I'd buy his or her books used or borrow them from the library. BUT if there were an artist who struck me as a great person IRL but whose work I found morally questionable (say, if I thought The Cider House Rules was inadvertently racist crap but esteemed it author), I would not go out and buy the books just to give the person money.

Card's comments on Mamma Mia show, I think, that his commitment to the craft of being a good reviewer/writing teacher transcends his political belief-set (Samuel Delany, an accomplished novelist who's gayer than a gay thing that's gay, supports that, telling me he's seen Card teach and was very impressed). So I might track down his two how-to writing books and pick them up used.

In terms of judging art, I go by "trust the tale, not the teller."