Fire, fire : a couple thoughts on reading, books, speech.
We live in a current age of critical examination - and more frequently re-examination - of people’s past misdeeds, misconducts, and actions in general. Often there is good reason to do so. There’s a satisfying sense of karma and sometimes actual justice that comes late to those who have long placed themselves above the basic human ethics and morals that the rest of humanity is expected to follow.
As it should be. I like the idea of justice coming late rather than never.
It also brings up the timeless issue of artist versus art.
Stephen King and others have written a bit about this and I won’t waste much copy space with retreaded ideas…but it’s an idea worth coming back to again and again.
How much do we need to embrace the artist in order to embrace their art?
Can we separate the two?
I will argue that just like our faulty memories are a beautiful gift that makes life better, our inconsistent sense of hypocrisy as it relates to Art is what allows us to fully appreciate the beauties and provocations that Art, in its many forms, has given us over the centuries.
We must be able, at a certain level, to surrender our control of an artist’s personal life, politics, or even values.
These are all things that obviously influence the work they create in some way, but history is filled with people who created beautiful aesthetics, but were wretched people in real life relationships and actions.
And we’re okay with that, up until the point we know.
Then we know, and we can’t unknow. And it feels good to disavow. And sometimes something is so atrocious that it does call for a reexamination and perhaps purging of that artist from your life (haven’t seen the Michael Jackson documentary yet, but I know many have removed him from their life’s playlist as a result). Fair enough.
But that word - purging - is a dangerous one.
Really, really dangerous.
The point at which we appoint guardians of culture to inspect the output of our creators to make sure they fall in line with societal and cultural standards of appropriateness is the point we have failed as a free society. And tying in the lives of those creators to the work they create is a slippery slope.
A slippery slope.
I am not advocating for not looking at the lives of those who create work that brings us joy or moves us in some way to emotions or thoughts or actions. But I am advocating for not automatically dismissing artists whose work has been extraordinary, but whose politics or beliefs are archaic or yes, even filled with -ists.
Colonialist. Racist. Et cetera. Neil Gaiman talks about Rudyard Kipling and the way his fans ask how he could read such an author. The short version of Gaiman’s reply is that he wrote really, really great stories and is still one of the great short story genre writers. The topics he’s covering within the genres of horror, the supernatural, suspense, and such are not filled with personal digressions into his support for colonialism.
They’re really, really good stories.
And we’d be missing out if we retroactively dismissed them.
Of course the best case is when we have someone like Matisse. Good person, great artist.
Decisions we all gotta make.