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Friday, June 8, 2012

Separating the Art and the Artist

I was pretty straight edge when I was a teen. I didn't smoke or take drugs and I barely drank. I looked down, with the kind of naive disdain only a teen can muster, on those who did. When River Phoenix died of a drug overdose I was shocked. How could he be that? (again, keep in mind - teen naivete, everything is either black or white) How could he have been a burn out when I loved him so? I haven't watched My Own Private Idaho since - though really, what the heck is wrong with me? it's an awesome movie. I digress.


Yesterday on BBC Radio there was a report about an Opera performing Wagner in Tel Aviv. I know bupkiss about classical music, but the report went on to detail how Wagner, while a genius and maker of incredible music, was an a rabid anti-semite and Hitler's favorite composer. Having a state funded institution pay for the performing of Wagner's music was seen as objectionable by some Israelis. Others say that, while Wagner the man was an awful human being, Wager the artist made divine music. You can see more about that particular situation here.

Recently there was some buzz on Twitter about Orson Scott Card and his views on homosexuality. From what I gather, these aren't new views, just ones that have come up again. I'd never heard about this author's views before and I'd only ever read Ender's Game, but I think that's a brilliant book. So now what? Would I read anything else by him? Could I separate a personal viewpoint that is so abhorrent to me from the work? Maybe. I'm not sure. I skim over his books in the bookstore and instead of the amazing characters he created and the originality of Ender's Game, I think about his politics. Is that fair? Should I separate the art from the artist? And are there degrees? Unlike my teen self, I recognize that the world is full of shades of gray (that have nothing to do with racy erotica.) 


I think for me, in the case of Orson Scott Card, I will read other books of his. But in the back of my mind, I'll be thinking about his politics and wondering how it influenced his writing. 



So, what about you? Are you able to separate the Art from the Artist? Have a writer/artist/musician you loved ever been tarnished in your eyes by questionable behavior?

8 comments:

  1. Writers' biases come out in their writing in ways that you may not notice when you don't know who they are, but once you do know, I think these biases are almost impossible to ignore. So in that sense, I think that once you know, say, that someone is a racist or a homophobe or a sexist, it is hard to interpret little things they say innocuously. On the other hand, once you know an author and you like them, it enhances your reading experience that much more.

    I will tell you my sad story about Orson Scott Card, which is that everyone kept telling me how incredible Ender's Game was, but when I went to read it, I couldn't get past the first 50 pages because OSC had said that something like, it was rare for women to be lieutenants (or whatever they're called) because women have had years of evolution working against them. And for the life of me, I could never pick up the book again after reading that. Sad, right?

    But knowing what I know now, I'm not sure I'd enjoy it anyway.

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    1. That's interesting. I do remember stumbling a bit over that part of Ender's game and the characterization of women (even though Ender's sister is a super genius like he is.) I guess I thought it was more of a reflection of that world's militaristic view, rather than his own views (unlike his homophobic views.)
      In the same vein, what about when reading works by Shakespeare or more recently Dorothy L. Sayers (two writers I admire very much.) Misogynistic, anti-semitic, homophobic - it's all there. Does the age of the work and the time in which it was written count? Thorny problem, no?

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    2. That would have been a good attitude to take with regard to book's misogeny, and I really wish I could have had that attitude. The fact that Ender's sister is super smart never really comforted me because the book makes it sound like she is the exception amongst women, like she is a useful anomaly. And that's just as sexist, I think.

      Sayers and Shakespeare? Yeah, I don't know. You're right; that is a thorny issue. But I feel like a stronger case can be made for holding contemporaries accountable to their views than doing so for previous generations.

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  2. I really try to separate the artist from he beliefs, but sometimes I catch myself doing the same kind of stuff. It is a hard line.

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    1. I totally agree, Deana. I find it a hard line to walk - I want to be aware and sensitive, but I also want to take a book on it's own merits. Sometimes knowing too much about the author can be a double edged sword.

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  3. Wow. Such a great question. People do seem to have a tendency to look at an artist and judge their work according to their beliefs. Is that necessary? Should it be done? Tough question. They say a person is known by their beliefs, yet there are some authors, musicians and actors who I don't agree with but do enjoy their work. Hmmm.. truly something to ponder. Thanks for making me think:)

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    1. Thanks for stopping by! This is a question I struggle with, back and forth. It never seems to be 'answered' definitively. I just try to take it case by case. I guess the only thing that we absolutely must do is be aware and think - "is this something I'm comfortable with? Why/why not?" Discernment in a reader is never a bad thing.

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