Re: RARA-AVIS: Re:Art and Morality

From: Sandra Ruttan (
Date: 24 Feb 2007

On 2/24/07 8:09 PM, "jimdohertyjr" <> wrote:

>> 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
> wouldn¹t
>> 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
> with
>> 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 referenced Silence of the Lambs because it delves into a very depraved mind. There are plenty of procedurals that don¹t tread into the darkness the way that one does. Silence of the Lambs has a definite subgenre crossover aspect to it, in the same way that Val McDermid's Tony Hill/Carol Jordan books do - they tell the story from the criminal's point of view as well as the cops. That's different from a standard police procedural. I only saw the movie Silence of the Lambs, and decided that I wouldn't be able to stomach the read at that time. As little as three years ago you wouldn't have found anything other than standard police procedurals on my bookshelves.
>> I balk at starting down a path that ultimately leads to
> investigating the
>> author¹s background first to determine if they are suitably moral
> before
>> 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
> buying
>> booze? If my imperative is ³to protect those who can't protect
> themselves²
>> surely I must have a responsibility to make sure they aren¹t using
> their
>> 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 honestly don't see how you can say "I think people have an obligation not to support wrongdoing. And if that means not buying something that is fundamentally immoral, then, yes" and leave the life of the artist out of it. By buying the art you might be supporting all kinds of wrongdoing. What about even the history of the art? Is it moral to sell a painting that you've come to possess because it was stolen from a Jewish family during WWII? Is it moral to buy it? Then what about buying an ARC that has it marked on the front that it isn't to be sold?

The thing is Jim, I'm not so far from you in many respects. We have a strict policy with Spinetingler that we will not publish work we believe incites hatred against any group, for example, or hard-core erotica. Someone submitted a story that involved sex with a teenager and we flat-out rejected it because the editorial view was that it was borderline porn. I have the right to impose those values on what I chose to publish or not publish. Do I have the right to tell anyone else they can't publish it? No.

I absolutely do think people have moral obligations to each other. I am not saying that artists are exempt, but look at this from another perspective. Is it moral that we deprive people in our own countries of jobs and farm the work out overseas, where employees are paid miniscule wages they can barely survive on? Is it moral to shop at Wal-Mart? On the face of it, I can make a good argument about why it isn't, about how the big companies are pushing out the local stores and the people who actually care about their towns. About how we're losing a sense of local identity by having the same big stores every other town has. About how stuff is produced in sweatshops, and let's not even get into how some of the employees are treated here.

But do I have a right to impose that moral judgment and say that everyone who shops at a certain store is immoral, when maybe that's the only way a family can afford to feed their kids? They can't afford the luxury of my morals, because they have to put food on the table and (insert name of unliked big business here) has the cheapest prices.

If a moral imperative is required of all artists it's required of everyone, across the board. You said yourself, "special cases aside, no. I don't think wrong-doing should be supported."

The problem is where you draw those lines and who gets to decide.

The fact that there can't even be a consensus on what is art, never mind what is moral, is a big part of the problem. I think that if we're going to go by percentages the overwhelming majority of people would say that child porn is not art - therefore not a valid comparison to use in this argument.

I can say that I want my art to be moral, make my own determination of what constitutes moral art and shop accordingly, but to say that all art has a moral imperative is something different.

You mention yourself in your post about getting into gray areas. It would be nice if the world was black and white but the overwhelming majority of the world is in the gray shades. It's very easy to point fingers at things like child porn and say it's evil and immoral. I have no problem agreeing with you on that. But it doesn't stand to reason that, because some things created are immoral that all created things have a moral imperative. I know some men who would consider some vehicles to be works of art. I know of whole communities who believe vehicles are of the devil, defiling the earth. In some parts of the world women beautify themselves with multiple piercings. I know others who think that if god wanted you to have holes in your earlobes he would have put them there.

The difference for me, Jim, is that if I know someone uses their money to support immoral activities I won't continue to put money in their pocket. That's a choice I'm willing to make for myself, but it's not a choice I can impose on another.

This is what I call the slippery slope. I don't believe art has a moral imperative. If I believed that by the same reasoning I'd have to believe that pizza has a moral imperative. It is, after all, something created, some might call it beautiful, and having known a few chefs, some of them are as temperamental about their "creations" as any artist I know. What if the ingredients were produced on a farm that isn't organic? Is an artist's job to entertain, possibly inspire or enlighten, or is it to lecture people on how to live? If art has a moral imperative it must all be value laden, and if it lacks appropriate values then it can't be art and must be trash.

I can agree to disagree on this and most certainly let it go, because this is one thing you won't persuade me to change my mind on. I have a strong personal preference for books that provide social commentary, that touch on important issues within the context of the story.

The reason I have a problem with your position is that I can see where it goes. I've been where it goes, right down to people who won't look for business services outside of The Good Shepherd Directory of local Christian businessmen because they don't want to support anyone who's living in sin.

Take something real and contemporary - Harry Potter books. Some people believe those books are immoral. Does that make it acceptable for them to ban the books and, in some cases, burn them? Because that is the ultimate end of imposing moral values on art - setting up those who determine what fails to meet the standard and then dealing with it accordingly.

Fahrenheit 451 comes to mind, as does The Chrysalids. And Ayn Rand's Anthem...


>> I haven¹t heard people make arguments like this since I was being
> lectured
>> 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?

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 24 Feb 2007 EST