RARA-AVIS: Re:Art and Morality

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 24 Feb 2007


Re your comments below:

"There are three basic questions being batted around."

No the question you raise aren't the question being batted around. At least they weren't the question I meant to raise when I first brought up the subject.
"First, can art be moral or immoral?"

Yes. And that's obvious on its face.

"Second, if art can be moral, is there an artistic imperative to make it so?"

No. There's a MORAL imperative to make it so. Just as there's amoral imperative to do the right thing in every aspect of one's life.

That's why I took such issue with your original statement about art having no moral obligations.

In the sense of being an inanimate object incapable of moral judgement, a work of art has no moral obligation.

But since you made this comment in response to my assertion that, by deliberately trashing the source of his film adaptation, Altman was acting immorally, I too you response to mean that ARTISTS have no moral obligations, which I though, and still think, to be a silly thing to say.

You may agree or disagree that Altman's lack of fidelity to the source material was immoral, but to broadly declare say that artists have no moral obligations, simpoly because they're artists and, consequently, above such petty considerations is monumentally arrogant.

Plagiarism is wrong, even if the plagiarized work has literary merit, notwithstanding its being based on a theft.

Child porn is wrong, notwithstanding that the photography may be superlatively beautiful.

Deliberately not living up to a contract is wrong, however gifted the painter, sculptor, author, etc.

"Third, is morality a required theme in art?"

No. On the other hand, I would argue that there is a moral requirement to refrain from an immoral point of view.

For example, Andrew Macdonald's novel THE TURNER DIARIES is immoral because it depicts racism, white supremacy, and murder as acceptable and laudable choices and encourages its readers to make those choices. It's been suggested that Timothy McVeigh was an avid fan of TURNER and that his bombing of the Murrah Building in OK City was inspired by the book.

Of course, to some degree an author is not responsible for the evil that a reader does after reading a book of his.

Ed McBain was not responsible for the kids who set homeless men on fire after seeing the film version of FUZZ, and Patricia Cornwell was not responsible for a serial killer who used the same method to troll for victims that the villain of her debut novel, POSTMORTEM, did.

In the first place, it's clear that neither author was in sympathy with te characters in their stories that carried out these acts. In the second, it's likely that the people who replicated the acts in real life would have done something similar anyway. The hoods who burned homeless men would have found some other way to prey on those who are too weak to defend themselves, and the serial killer would have found some other way to acquire victims. FUZZ and POSTMORTEM were just convenient blueprints.

The difference is that William "Andrew Macdonald" Pierce wasn't just telling a story; he was trying to inspire converts. McBain and Cornwell clearly didn't want readers dupicating the acts of their villains. Pierce, just as clearly, DID want his readers to duplicate the actions of his "heroes."

And, just so there's no misunderstanding, I confidently make these comment about THE TURNER DIARIES without having actually read it.

Dimitri Gat's NEVSKY'S DEMON, by way of contrast, is not immoral because it argues for a hateful ideology, but because the author plagiarized JDMacD's THE DREADFUL LEMON SKY. And, though I haven't read it, I have read NEVKSY'S RETURN, and enjoyed it, so I suspect that NEVSKY'S DEMON is also a good read, for all that it's the result of a theft.

A pice of child porn is immoral both because it encourages immorality, the exploitation of children for sexual pleasure, and because it exploits actually does exploit children in its production.

So the question isn't about artistic imperatives. It's about moral imperatives. All people, even artists, have an obligation to be honest, to be charitable, to be respectful of others, to protect those who can't protect themselves, to keep their promises, to live up to their committments, etc. That's the essence of moral behavior.

A novelist who uses his art to promulgate a hateful and debased ideology is immoral, and so is his novel.

A novelist who steals from another to produce his book is immoral, and so is his novel.

A filmmaker or photographer who exploits children to derive a profit from sexual predators is immoral, and so is the film or photos he produces.

By the way, I've stayed out of this discussion for many days now, so I now deny any and all responsibility for THE LONG GOODBYE thread continuing to generate comments.


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