It seems that even the freshest minds in the art world are capable of making stale, off-colour remarks.
Ender’s Game author Orson Scott Card is experiencing the public’s bite after expressing his belief that gay marriage would be the “end of democracy.” Fans are now boycotting the film adaptation of the novel in order to avoid what they claim is an “anti-gay agenda.”
Card is not the first public figure to spark controversy with unsolicited remarks. Designer John Galliano was booted from his creative throne at Dior in 2011 after being caught drunkenly hurling anti-Semitic remarks at a Parisian couple, similar to those made by an inebriated Mel Gibson months earlier.
Galliano and Gibson have become cautionary tales for all those in the industry. Their embarrassing lack of self-control and uncensored remarks towards the Jewish community wiped their career slates clean.
If the backlash has proved anything, it’s that the public can be extremely mercurial and unforgiving. Statements pertaining to race, religion, or sexuality will evidently mark an artist for the length of their career. Even the most beautiful works can at once seem ugly, with individuals unable to enjoy it out of fear that they are supporting intolerance.
However, it is the art that is ultimately meant to be examined and criticized and not the artist.
It was philosopher Novalis who once said “the artist belongs to his work, not the work to the artist.”
A divide needs to be established between the two. It is possible to enjoy a piece of work without agreeing or even acknowledging the creator’s views or intents, since we are the ones who will give the work meaning.
What Card did, despite his homophobic comments, was write a science fiction novel that is being hailed by critics as the next 1984. The book itself is not openly slanderous or degrading towards homosexuals, and should be enjoyed as such. By opening a certain book, wearing a specific style of clothing, or seeing a certain film, you are emphasizing freedom of choice; choosing to do something that you enjoy.
You are not subconsciously showing allegiance to the creator. If their work is harmful or openly disrespectful, it is understandable to reject it. However, there is no sense in basing someone’s professional credentials on their personal values.
The overall product and contribution to their domain is what should be emphasized. Galliano, who blamed depression and substance abuse for his public tirade, managed to incorporate whimsy and a new artistry into a decades old fashion house. His runway shows set the standard for other designers during fashion week, underlining his love of both theatre and femininity. No other designer has held a candle to his creativity, and yet in an instant his reputation was tarnished, and his innovations were forgotten despite having sought treatment and publically lamenting.
Similarly, it is quickly forgotten that Mel Gibson was the only Hollywood figure to write, produce and direct historical epics with intense realism, even going so far as to revive dead languages like Aramaic and Mayan. Even as time passes, these artists will unfortunately continue to live in the shadows cast by their outbursts and assertions.
Ultimately, we need to be more lenient with artists. If they are not blatantly displaying works of racism, fascism, gender bias or the like, we are capable of providing our own analysis. There is no reason to hold them to unreasonable standards of censorship. This sort of ignorance prevents the public from engaging with their work in a meaningful, profound way. Great art can often redeem the prejudices of the artist.