RARA-AVIS: Re:Art and Morality

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


Re your comment belwo:

> I¹m not Miker, but this is what I want to know from those who think
art does
> have a moral imperative:

You're making it sound like I'm singling out art. I don't say artists have a moral imperative. I say EVERYONE, in every aspect of their lives, has a moral imperative.

So why should artists be different?

> Will you boycott a movie/book/album that you
> believe is immoral? And how do you determine that if you haven¹t
> it? In Jim¹s case I can ask the specific question, because of the
> below: If you know the author isn¹t an honest, charitable person
will you
> boycott their books?

I would, never read NEVKSY'S DEMON, despite having enjoyed NEVSKY'S RETURN, because it was plagiarized.

I would never read THE TURNER DIARIES, because it promotes bigotry and hatred and violence. It doesn't just depict it. It promotes it.

Understand, never's long time. I might read, say, MEIN KAMPF for historical reasons. I HAVE read THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO and THE MAR/ENGELS READER for historical purposes.

I might look at a piece of child porn in order to build a criminal case against the organization distributing it.

But, special cases aside, no. I don't think wrong-doing should be supported.
> If art has a moral imperative do consumers have a moral obligation
> support what fits their moral imperative? If you purchased
something that
> was what you would consider immoral would that make your purchase
an immoral
> act? What about the concept of fruit from the poisoned tree? If
the artist
> is immoral can they produce moral work?

I think people have an obligation not to support wrongdoing. And if that means not buying something that is fundamentally immoral, then, yes.

Can an immoral person produce a moral work? In the context of this discussion, I was talking about the way in which the work IS produced. NEVKSY'S DEMON was probably a moral work in the sense that it depicted a character who was trying to do right and help people. But it happened that Dimitri Gat ripped off JDM to produce that work. It may be quite enjoyable is its own right, but it's immoral because of the way it's produced.

Andrew Macdonald, by contrast, didn't rip anyone off when he wrote THE TURNER DIARIES. But he used fiction as a medium to promote hateful and immoral ideologies and action. It's immoral less because of how it's produced than because of the hatred and violence it's trying to sow.

Child porn is immoral both because of how it's produced and what it does once it is produced.

> I don¹t consider child porn art, or plagiarism. That¹s not art,
> theft. Art is the creation of beautiful/thought-
provoking/compelling work
> through painting, drawing, music, writing etc. If you¹re stealing,
> creating, it isn¹t art.

Yeah, but no one can agree on what's beautiful, thought-provoking, compelling, etc. Even less so at the time it first appears. That's why the "test of time," imperfect as it is, is the best arbiter for what is and isn't worthwhile. Is it not art in the meantime? Of course not. It's all art. Some of it's good, some of it's bad, most of it's probably mediocre. And some of it, whether good, bad, or mediocre, is just immoral.

Plagiarism is certainly theft. But if the plagiarist is a good writer notwithstanding that theft (as Gat was), and the resulting novel, on the basis of the thief's individual talent, is a beautiful, compelling read, it's not any less art. It's just immoral because of the way it was produced. The artist failed to follow a moral imperative that one does not steal something that belongs to someone else.

A piece of child porn, similarly, may be exquisitely photographed, and may be an excellent example of the art of photography notwithstanding the victimization of the model. But a model IS being victimized every time a piece of child porn is made or displayed. The photographer failed to follow a moral imperative that children should not be sexually exploited.
> I have worked as a professional photographer. At one point I spent
a few
> months taking school photos, along with a number of other
> Were those photos art? Not by my definition. The art was what
sold for
> $300/image, not what was produced from moving lines of kids past an
> artificial backdrop. So, I don¹t consider child porn to be art

By your definition, it sounds like the arbiter of whether or not it's art is how much the photo sold for. What if the photographer who produced that $300 image used every single iota of his creative, artistic, and photographic talent to produce a piece of child porn? Not the child porn equivalent of a mass-produced assembly line school photo, but a work that displays real talent. Would it be any less a piece of child porn for the artistic effort that went into it? What if it sold for $300?

You can't escape the notion that we all, even artists, have moral obligations to each other simply by saying that if an artist does something manifestly wrong, like plagiarism, like promoting racial violence, like sexually exploiting children, it's not really art anyway.
> The problem I have with the statement below is that it presumes
into how
> people must live their life in order to be an acceptable artist.
It would
> certainly be nice if people were all that way, although then we
> have crime fiction because we wouldn¹t have crime. I¹ll admit this
is why I
> am more of a police procedural junkie, because I prefer to invest
my thought
> in how to get the bad guy, instead of dwelling on how to get away
> murder. It would be fair to say my own values influence my
reading, but
> does it make someone who likes Silence of the Lambs immoral? No.

Now I'm really confused. You say you like procedurals and yet you wonder whether THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, one of the all-time great procedurals, is, or might be, immoral.

In any case, you're getting into a grayer area, here. There may be things I think are immoral that others don't (like Altman's unconscionable trashing of THE LONG GOODBYE).

But to say that, because one doesn't think Altman was doing anything wrong by following his own muse instead of adapting the novel into film with a modicum of fidelity, it follows that, as Miker put it, "Art has no moral obligations," is silly.

Everyone has moral obligations. Including artists. And I used the examples of plagiarism, child porn, and promoting racial violence precisely because I though that the immorality behind works based on those acts would be manifestly evident.
> I balk at starting down a path that ultimately leads to
investigating the
> author¹s background first to determine if they are suitably moral
> reading their work. Now, if I¹ve met someone who is not a nice
person and I
> am put off by their behaviour and then find out they¹re an author,
I¹m not
> as likely to try their book. But if I read an author and love
their work
> and then find out they¹re a jerk, should I stop reading? What if I
find out
> they¹re an alcoholic? Should I boycott the books to keep them from
> booze? If my imperative is ³to protect those who can't protect
> surely I must have a responsibility to make sure they aren¹t using
> money for things that will hurt them - ?

You're misinterpreting me. And I can't help wondering if it's not deliberate.

Wagner, by most accounts, was a vicious anti-Semite.

Beethoven, according to some accounts, was terribly unlikeable and treated other people like dirt.

Nevertheless, I've got no problem attending th Ring Cycle or listening to the Fifth Symphony. The Ring Cycle doesn't promote anti- Semitism (despite the Nazis' adoption of Wagner as a kind of musical patron saint), and the Fifth doesn't promote treating other people badly. And I've got no evidence that either work specifically grew out of an act, or series of acts, of anti-Semitism on Wagner's part, or ill-treatment of others on Beethoven's.
> I haven¹t heard people make arguments like this since I was being
> not to listen to secular music or read books written by heathens.

I'm not talking about religious beliefs, or about works that challenge one's religious beliefs. I don't think a book like THE CASE AGAINST GOD is fundamentally immoral, for all that I disagree with it. It's an honest expression of an opinion. I have no evidence that the author is dishonest, dishonorable, hateful, or mistreats others. And even if I did, for the work to be immoral it would have to specifically grow out of his dishonesty, hatefulness, etc.

As it stands, not having read it, it's just a book that takes a point of view I disagree with.

That's fundamentally different than plagiarizing someone else's work, exploiting children, or preaching white supremacy.

I'm not really sure what your problem is with the passage of mine that you quoted. Do you think that people do NOT have moral obligations to each other? Do you think that honesty and charity are merely options to be exercised when convenient, but discarded whenever it suits us?

And if you don't think that, if you acknowledge that we all have moral obligations to each other, why doesn't imperative apply to artists as much as it does lesser mortals?


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