Monday, June 23, 2014

Is is possible to separate the art from the artist?

What do you do if you find out a writer, whose work you ostensibly like, is a terrible person?

I see a lot of discussion about this here and there on the interweb.

Some people burn that crop, and salt the land that nothing might grow there. They disavow that writer's words ever crossing their eyes or consciousness again. They feel sick and abased for having liked the work in the first place. They act as though reading that writer's books or stories is tantamount to condoning whatever it is the writer has expressed separately, on his or her own time.

Other people bring up phrases like "separate the art from the artist."

A non-writer example: have you seen the landscapes Hitler painted? They aren't bad art, I don't feel. But they are Hitler's. If people are exposed to them independent of their creator, they can appreciate the paintings, the use of light, wonder at the absence of people, etc. When they are told, "oh, Hitler painted that", the lip curls, the revulsion sets in. Is liking Hiter's art the same as condoning the Holocaust? No. Is Hitler's art perhaps part of the dialogue, the greater whole, the history of what happened and why and how? Yes.

I found out this week that Marion Zimmer Bradley apparently knew about child abuse and pedophelia carried out by her husband at the time, Walter Breen. Marion Zimmer Bradley also apparently abused her own daughter. (information here, if you want to read a whole bunch about how garbage people can be and how lives are ruined).

I read The Mists of Avalon in high school, and a couple other of her woo woo women of power Avalon-ish books that are related. I liked Mists the best, but as I got older, the others were less to my taste. I've heard her Darkover science fiction series is very good, though I haven't read it yet myself. Does finding out about this abuse, and the abuse around her, make me turn my back on everything she's ever written, ever again, for the rest of my days?

I don't know, actually. It isn't as easy as that. Does this mean I think child abuse or sexual is all right, ever? Fuck no. And in a way, I regret that these things must be linked.

Another example: Orson Scott Card. He hates people who are gay and actively supports anti-gay organizations (or has in the past). In fact, according to this Cracked article, there are a number of reasons one might choose to dislike Orson Scott Card.

I read Seventh Son  and one or two of the other related books in high school (this is getting to be a theme, here), but have not read Ender's Game, which I've heard is pretty damn amazing and just the kind of science fiction I like. Additionally, the movie came out recently. Does my disagreement with Card's opinion on homosexuality color my perception of his books? Yeah, it kind of does. Especially if he uses money from his books to oppress people. That just isn't my wheelhouse. Are his books themselves anti-homosexual? I have no idea. I'm probably still going to read Ender's Game, which I will get from the library, which already bought it years ago and if everybody stopped checking books out from the library I'd be out a job. See, I can justify many things.

Last example: Hugh Howey, writer of the Wool  trilogy. It's post apocalyptic, which again, makes it My Thing, and it's self published, which has made him kind of a figurehead for "look at how successful you can be just on your own, writers!" Of course, a lot of people know who Hugh Howey is because somebody bugged him at World Con, and he posted a rant about it on his blog which included the phrase "suck it, bitch!" (he's since redacted the blog post, but you can see a cached version and a further discussion of the events on Salon here). The Howey stuff is a little different, to me. I read the blog post and As a Woman, I didn't feel particularly offended. Some people did, and I can respect that. But there are times I myself have said "suck it, bitch" to both men and women (granted, people I personally knew). So there's that.

Also, the fact that his trilogy is called Wool makes me think of the Lord Byron poem, "We'll go no more a-roving", and that's one of those oblique puns which people I've made it to in-person don't get, but at least one person on Twitter (who was also, I think, a literary agent) did.

In the end, I think each person needs to make their own choice. You'd better not tell me what I'm "supposed" to be offended by; I'll likely get thorny. And I return the favor; I can't tell you what you're supposed to be offended by.


  1. Leaving Hitler to the side (cause that's a whole other stratosphere of hate), I can separate the art from the artist if the work was created and the artist lived in another era. Historical context. But from someone alive and creating in these times? I can't do it. Everyone is entitled to their beliefs and opinions, and I am entitled to spend my money elsewhere.

    1. I can understand, and support, that.

      Historical context is one way to put it. Certain things were a matter of course in a different time which aren't as widely accepted now (very young brides, as an example).

  2. This is a tough one. For instance, when I was younger, I liked Guns N Roses. I read about Axel Rose beating up women, but I still liked their music. As I got older, I stopped listening....did I outgrow it? Did my taste change? I KNOW at least some of it is colored by how very much I loathe the way he treats women.

    1. I didn't know that about Axel Rose (and that makes "Sweet Child o' Mine" very.....weird)! In general, there are things I no longer listen to that I used to listen to a lot of, but I tend to learn nothing about the musicians I enjoy. Maybe I'm burying my head in the sand to maintain my own enjoyment? I hope not :(

    2. Probably not and even like what you like, right? I don't apologize for who I like to listen to or read, etc. But I think it's possible that who they are as a person MIGHT impact it. Although, honestly, there are some writers who I will always read...even if they are writing from prison

    3. Man, I've achieved a certain level of "Don't give a fuck" I wish I possessed my entire life. I think I did when I was like, 3 or 4 or 5, and then lost it until recent adulthood. I like what I listen to, and listen to what I like, and I think everybody should do the same.

      Some writers didn't get famous 'til after prison. Anne Perry, to my understanding, is a pseudonym and as a child she and a friend killed said friend's mother. Jeffrey Archer went to prison as well (I think).

      There are some places where I am absolutely no longer a fan of somebody/something, full stop. And other places, like writing and music, evidently, where it slips into a shade of grey.

  3. I can separate the art from the artist when I know the artist isn't profiting from my support. If they're dead and I know the royalties go to some random family member, I don't see that as a problem or as necessarily endorsing them. I have a much bigger problem if my money is going to to supporting them (like Orson Scott Card). In those cases, I'll wait until I can consume the content for free (library, tv, whatever) if I'm really interested.

    1. That makes sense. And that's the route I went with the Ender's Game movie (and book). I haven't watched it yet, but I'm going to get it from the library when I do.