Does the Character of the Artist Taint the Art?

Does the Character of the Artist Taint the Art?

By Don Hall

I love science fiction.

One of my very first memories of science fiction in films was my mother constructing a card table fort in front of the television (this was back before cable or VCRs when there were only three major networks that were accessed through rabbit ear antennae — a little foil helped the signal, dontchaknow...) so I could camp out all night and watch the Planet of the Apes marathon.

I read Asimov's Foundation Trilogy before I was in 6th grade and saw Star Wars (when I was 12) in a Phoenix, Ariz. movie theater 25 times in two weeks when it opened in 1977.

So, when Ender's Game came out, I burned through it in record time. And have subsequently read every single spinoff (both the Ender's thread and the Ender's Shadow books.)

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I was not really a fan of Orson Scott Card as a person because he is a devoted Mormon. I don't have anything special against Mormons because I'm basically suspicious of most people who wear their religious beliefs like a badge — given my strong intuition that all religions are fantasy and myth, I don't see Mormonism any different than I do Christianity, Scientology, Islam or Greek Mythology — and people who announce their solidarity with a fairy tale first and foremost give me the whim whams.

When it was announced that Card was anti-gay, I really wasn't surprised. He's a Mormon. He's Mormon enough to have "Mormon" as a primary identifier of who he is in his bio. He wears his Mormonism like a flag he waves. And Mormons, as a collective, don't like the gays.

While it didn't change the fact that I loved the stories or that the movie that came out with Harrison Ford was a bit of a turd, I'll admit it gave me pause. It made me want to go back and see if there was some sort of anti-gay themes or propaganda embedded in the books. Like reading Roald Dahl and suddenly recognizing his anti-Semitism dripping from the corners of Willy Wonka or watching Manhattan and being a bit creeped out by Woody Allen's lust for women half his age.

It brings to mind the fact that I generally like Tom Cruise movies but think Scientology is just goofy as shit. Or know that Lewis Carroll was probably a pedophile but dig Alice in Wonderland nonetheless.

The question begged is pretty straightforward:

If the art created by someone with hateful and ugly beliefs doesn't espouse those beliefs, does his or her intent matter?

"[Charles] Krafft, an elder of Seattle art, is a provocateur. He makes ceramics out of human cremains, perfume bottles with swastika stoppers, wedding cakes frosted with Third Reich insignias. Up-and-coming artists continue to admire him. Leading curators include him in group shows from Bumbershoot to City Arts Fest. His work is in the permanent collections of Seattle Art Museum, Henry Art Gallery, and the Museum of Northwest Art, and it's been written about in the New YorkerHarper'sArtforumJuxtapoz. It's also appeared on the cover of The Stranger.

Turns out that Krafft is a Holocaust denier and a White Nationalist. Progressive art lovers everywhere spent vast amounts of wealth buying his ironic pieces only to find out that he wasn't really being ironic at all.

If you bought his kitchy "Hitler Idaho" teapot and thought it was an ironic joke and, in your subjective opinion, displayed the teapot as a provocative piece of dark humorous art, does the realization that the artist is a raging lunatic with hatefully poisonous beliefs change the teapot?

Whether you find the allegations of pedophilia against Allen to be credible (I'm not one to subscribe to the blanket, "I Believe Her" because I recognize that women, while shoved into a place in society that has been the literal shit end of the stick, are human beings and capable of all sorts of disingenuous nonsense) it's hard to deny that Crimes and Misdemeanors and Hannah & Her Sisters are flat out brilliant. And that Zelig was Forrest Gump but funnier.

If the art created by someone with hateful and ugly beliefs doesn't espouse those beliefs, does his or her intent matter?

I think sometimes it does, Hitler himself started the Nazi movement first and foremost as a huge national art project. He designed the logos and iconography of his lunacy himself and some of his first acts were surrounding the definitions of National German Art.

Krafft actually uses that imagery to promote a subversive version of that ideology. That is definitely problematic.

I suppose if Card used his Big Royalty Paychecks to fund anti-gay legislation, that would impact my decision to read his books. It can be argued that by tithing to the Mormon Church, he is doing exactly that.

Allen is trickier because he is not an advocate of child molestation nor does any of his work promote the idea. If he suddenly made a comedy effectively apologizing for a child rapist, I'd definitely avoid it.

I have a tattoo on my right shoulder that says "Ars Gratia Artis" - Latin for "Art for Art's Sake" and, for the most part, I believe that art subjectively stands alone. We still see A Merchant of Venice produced routinely, in spite of it's ridiculously anti-Semitic subject matter and no one seems to be boycotting Shakespeare.  Perhaps it is about time. When the art and the artist can be seen in the same room, perhaps the intent and the inherent beliefs of the artist do matter, do influence the subjective appreciation of the art.

Do we require a purity of thought to appreciate the work? Bukowski was a scumbag misogynist cat who I would not have ever wanted to drink with but I love his poetry. 

Will it be forgotten what a complete fucker Mel Gibson is once he croaks and 100 years from now people watch Braveheart? Will the films of Clint Eastwood live on far beyond the memory of him lambasting Barack Obama for the GOP? Is it possible to marvel at the paintings of Picasso without being reminded that he was a monster to the women in his life and to those who modeled for him? Can we enjoy listening to the Beatles even though we know John Lennon beat up women?

Maybe so. Maybe not. Art is still subjective while the context in which the art is created is not so much. 

I still love the original Planet of the Apes movies even though I know that Charleston Heston was an unrepentant shill for the NRA.

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