Thinking Through Type will be a rather random addition to the blog wherein I go on long, rambling diatribes about some issues that affect the SFF world. It’s literally me thinking “out loud” (or as loud as it gets on the internet), which is why it will be “rambling” rather than cohesively pulled together and nicely edited. This is the raw edition of my thoughts and I’m going to try very hard to explore multiple perspectives on some hot-button genre issues.
I encourage discussion, but keep it polite. The point of Thinking Through Type will be to examine issues, and examination often best happens when beliefs and viewpoints are (politely) challenged. Feel free to add your two cents in a comment. Discussion helps me broaden my understanding of the world and the many events and people that color it.
I am lucky enough to be one of those birds that flies in several different artistic circles. My website keeps me absolutely immersed in all things SFF, and through it I’ve made some amazing author, publisher, and reviewer friends. My photography has kept me immersed in semi-pro and professional photography circles. I am a rather busy person, and due to the fact that I’m running my own business, I also have to self-promote a lot.
A few weeks ago I got an email from someone who, I guess, was a fan of my photography. She wrote me a letter saying that she loved one of my photography series. She saw some of my new work at (insert venue here) and loved it. Unfortunately, she did some research on me and somehow found out I’m an atheist. This was hugely offensive to her and due to the fact that I’m an atheist, she can no longer support my artwork.
Fine. That’s her right, but for the life of me I can’t figure out how my atheism influences the quality of my photography.
Hey, Sarah, what are you getting at here?
It’s interesting for me to see these discussions about Orson Scott Card pop up all over the place. In my mind it boils down to a fundamental issue that I addressed on my Facebook page today: Can/should we separate the art from the artist? This is made doubly thought-provoking because I’ve now been on the side of the artist who is getting spurned due to a belief/lack thereof.
Card is very vocally against same-sex marriage and while I have a visceral knee-jerk reaction against his point of view, and I find many of the things he’s said absolutely offensive, he has a right to his beliefs, no matter how offensive they might seem to people. Until I balance his checkbook and make his financial decisions, he also has a right to do whatever he wants with his money. On the other hand, people have a right to speak with their money and show their disfavor of his beliefs, just like my potential photography client did with me. It’s easy to get swept up in passions and the heat of debate, but the truth is that I can see both sides of the issue, especially now that I’ve experienced both sides of it.
I’ve studied art my whole life. I’ve always been very into it; from sculptures, photographers, painters and whatever else you can throw at me. I’ve taken more art history classes than I could count. I’ve spent months in Europe studying art. I am obsessed, and I can say the same with literature. I am fascinated with art in all its many forms. This is probably why running Bookworm Blues is so easy for me. Analyzing the creative field is nothing new to me. I’ve been doing it for years and years. However, one thing I try very hard to do with my website is separate the art from the artist.
Despite the fact that every bit of art reflects the artist in some way, the art itself is not the artist, just as corporations are not people, and neither are books or paintings. None of them have hearts, thoughts or feelings. They don’t eat, breathe, cry, sweat, or worry. I have read a ton of books throughout the course of running my website. I’d be a fool to think that I couldn’t find something to fundamentally disagree with, or even be offended by, if I analyzed each author closely enough. I try hard not to get to know authors too well. It helps me remain impartial as a reviewer. If the author’s viewpoints aren’t known, they can’t color their book for me, and I can enjoy the work from a less biased foundation.
One reason literature and art has always fascinated me is because it stretches my understanding of the world around me and the people who inhabit it. Each year I make myself read a lot of books in a genre I don’t typically enjoy. Why? Because reading those books forces me to gain a greater respect for the authors, their efforts, their books, and their fans. It helps me broaden my scope and I enjoy that. It keeps me from stagnating.
There are books that address all sorts of issues that I disagree with. For example, Twilight, especially later in the series, focuses quite a bit on abstinence until after marriage. The series has millions and millions of fans (though that boggles my mind). Do you really think that each of those fans is pro-abstinence just because they read the Twilight books? Of course not. I love Mark Lawrence’s series, but that doesn’t mean I’m pro teens killing people. You don’t have to agree with the author or the themes they toy with to enjoy the book for what it is. There are a ton of fantasy books that involve men degrading women in one form or another (IE: there’s rape in Peter V. Brett’s first book), but I tend to enjoy the books anyway because (insert thing here) is realistic in the context of the world the author has created. It doesn’t mean that I’m (whatever).
On the other hand, people speak with their money. Orson Scott Card has gone out of his way to be vocally against same-sex anything. His plea for tolerating his intolerance is the cherry on top of his incredible cake. Not seeing his movie is one way for people to say they disagree with him and his discrimination. That is within the consumer’s right. We speak with our money all the time. For example: I refuse to buy anything from Chick-Fil-A. I also realize the company doesn’t even notice the loss of my business.
As I said above, I’ve never read Ender’s Game or any of Card’s books because I’ve never really felt any inclination to do so. His movie, honestly, doesn’t look that interesting to me (I’m not a huge movie person, anyway). However, Ender’s Game is one of those books that has pulled a lot of young minds into SFF and created genre fans for life.
You can probably tell I’m of two minds regarding the issue of separating the art from the artist. On the one hand I can understand why people wouldn’t want to support someone who so vocally and flamboyantly offends a huge portion of the population. On the other hand, it goes back to me loosing a client because I’m an atheist. How on earth does my lack of belief affect the quality of my photography? It doesn’t. I don’t hand out The Origin of Species before I do a still life set. Orson Scott Card might be an asshole regarding some of his beliefs, but in this grand country, doesn’t he have a right to be an asshole? I can’t read minds, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t write an entire book while chanting, “I hate gay people” over and over again. If people can enjoy Twilight and have guilt free pre-marital sex after, can’t they do the same with Ender’s Game?
Orson Scott Card will make money off of his movie and what he does with it is his business. I don’t balance his checkbook so I couldn’t tell you where it goes, and despite the claims floating around, I’m not sure anyone else could really tell you how much of his money goes to groceries and bills, and how much of it goes to his religious or personal beliefs. I’m not sure that’s any of anyone’s business, anyway. His beliefs make me almost physically ill, but he has a right to them, just like I have a right to mine, and you have a right to yours.
Like I said above, I try very, very hard to separate the art from the artist. I read books and have studied paintings of people I fundamentally disagree with, and I’ve enjoyed their art immensely. Just because someone enjoys some artwork doesn’t mean that said person supports the artist’s perspectives, or is even aware of them. Then again, people speak with their money, and that can create a powerful voice. Many people feel that not seeing his movie or buying his books will give him less money to dedicate to his various anti-causes. With the internet it’s easy to find out how people feel about certain issues. That’s why, as a reviewer, I try hard not to pay attention. Once you know how an author feels about anything, it’s hard to not let that color their work.
The grand thing about living in today’s day and age, in this country (and so many others) is that I have a right to be an atheist, no matter who that ticks off, and Orson Scott Card has a right to get his hate on, no matter how many people that offends. What either of us does with our money is our business. Boycotting my photography because I’m an atheist won’t get me to be any less of an atheist, nor will it force me to stop taking pictures. I’m sure the same can be said for any author or artist out there.
It’s the guilt about this issue that is bothering me the most. People have already started using the terms “support” in relation to Card’s upcoming movie. For example: I won’t support OSC so I won’t buy a ticket to his movie. Fine, but I doubt everyone who is going to go see that movie is thinking that they are “supporting” anti-gay causes by buying a ticket to his movie, and coloring it like that seems incredibly black and white to me when the world is full of grays. Consumers aren’t supporting my atheism when they buy a print from me. They are supporting my photography.
So what does this gigantic rambling diatribe boil down to?
Consumers speak with their money, so go forth and speak with yours. Art has enriched people for thousands of years. Orson Scott Card is very vocal regarding his beliefs, but if we really examined every artist out there, I’m sure we could all find something to absolutely disagree with in each of them. We can either make ourselves blind, deaf, and dumb to avoid all the controversy out there, or we can accept a book or painting for what it is and realize that artists, consumers and everyone else has a right to believe whatever they want. We all also have a right to agree, disagree, purchase or not purchase their work. It’s as simple as that.
Art is a window into a point of history that can never be revisited. It’s an interpretation of events, understandings, struggles, and hardships. There are some amazing paintings from Spain that depict inbred royal families (a common practice way back when so the royal blood would be kept “pure”). Viewing them, and enjoying the bit of history they are portraying, does not make the viewer or painter “pro-inbreeding.”
Perhaps on this issue we should all agree to disagree and leave the drama to the pundits.