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Sup internet.

So here’s something that confuses me: People who get upset about artists.

As in, people who get upset when they find out that Roald Dahl was anti-Semitic.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s terrible, he should be severely remonstrated with (being dead is no excuse for intolerance).  But (a) he’s dead, and (b) it doesn’t matter.  He’s hailed as one of the world’s greatest children’s writers.  His books are fantastic, and I think most of my peer group grew up with them, as has been the case with children for decades.

He’s a great writer.  His books are awesome. Full stop.  Maybe he was an asshole in person.  Maybe he ate kittens.  I don’t know.  But I don’t care because he’s dead, and because his books don’t eat kittens.

Forsaking Dahl because he was anti-Semitic is slightly akin to avoiding Beethoven because he was deaf.  Neither fact has any bearing on the quality of their art, which has become a pillar of culture.

We seem to expect that our artists should meet some higher standard.  We tie their music, their books, their paintings to them, to their value as a person, and what they do as a person affects the value of their art.  Well, guess what.  If I vomit on the floor, that mess is pretty much unaffected when I go and run over poodles with my ATV.  If I spray-paint a rock in an aesthetically pleasing way, the paint isn’t going to magically peel off or become ugly when I take a baseball bat to a Galapagos tortoise.

The actual artistic value of a piece of artwork remains unchanged regardless of what the artist does.  Adolf Hitler’s paintings are still unimpressive and only moderately talented despite the man’s murderous tendencies (though if he had had training and encouragement perhaps he would have become one of the greats rather than becoming a manic dictator).

Now, there are many artists I would like to meet in person, for whatever reason.  Because I want to know how they did what they did.  Because they seem like they’d be interesting people.  For whatever reason.  And there is a certain intuitive sense to the idea that you can get to know a person through their art.   And I believe it’s true in a way.

But not completely true.

Certainly there is a deep, wild, magnificent wonder in the writing of H.P. Lovecraft.   It’s possible that we could even conduct a long conversation on the subject of the numinous and the uncanny (though I’ll freely admit that my Otto is not up to snuff, a little goes a long way).    But Lovecraft was by all accounts creepy, introverted, curmudgeonly, racist, and depressive, so the difficulty of such a conversation would be getting him to talk to me in the first place.   But that doesn’t really matter, because when I read his writing, regardless of how he is (was?) as a person, we’re on the same page.  And that page isn’t “dark-skinned people are creepy and diabolical,” or “I hate my life.”  That page is “LOOK AT HOW AWESOME THIS SCARY SH*T IS.”

And that’s the important connection.   Because I’m not going to have a conversation with the guy, I’m going to read his book.  I’m not going to give him money because I support his deviant tendencies, I’m going to give him money because I like his book.   

SUBJECT CHANGE.

NOW THERE ARE SOME PEOPLE, though perhaps fewer today than in past decades, who say that art cannot be morally judged.  It’s art, man, and its purpose is to lift up the human spirit and blah blah blah djedouhferouwarghrl WHATEVER.

I believe those people are wrong.  Just like many things in life, art is judged on multiple axes.

NO NOT THOSE KIND OF AXES GOD DAMMIT INTERNET I’M TRYING TO BE SERIOUS

A piece of art can inspire immensely strong emotional reactions.  However, it’s entirely possible that those reactions are OH MY GOD WHAT THE HELL IS THIS.

I suppose it comes down to the role of the artist.  What does the artist do? The artist communicates with his/her/its/Uds public, and grants to them an inspiration relevant to the presence of the numinous in their lives.  Or so I’ve heard.  IN PSYCHOLOGICAL ENGLISH, the artist makes things that elicit an emotional response from their audience.

Now, an emotional response is different from a moral response.  When someone gets punched, it elicits an emotional response and a moral response.  Disconnects between these two are where we get the “I know I shouldn’t laugh but it’s hilarious” reaction.  Among other things.

Which means of course that you can judge everything morally.  Which is of course an entirely different discussion from whether or not you should, but still. 

Now there ARE people who DO judge everything morally.  We refer to these people as ‘uptight.’

Similarly, there are people who judge nothing morally.  We call these people ‘sociopaths.’

And THAT’S a brief rant on the subject of ART.

Coming up NEXT WEEK, a brief rant on the subject of THE POWER OF LANGUAGE.

But for now I leave you with a last piece of artwork to contemplate.

Farewell for now, INTERNETS.

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