Once, I wrote eighty-four stories in a year. They were flash fiction, so they were 1000 words or less, but those stories were boot camp for me. Doing that project stretched my writing muscles so that now I no longer wait for the muse, the muse shows up for me.*
During that time I wrote a science fiction story about a preacher who talks to his son about memory sharing. He advises his son not to memory-share with people who aren’t your life partner. I wrote this story after hearing about purity balls and some viewpoints on abstinence, and thinking about what kinds of intimacy might be taboo in the future, and how arbitrary restrictions on intimacy are in our culture.
One of my readers read it as piece of Christian science fiction, and was so happy that Christian writers were being represented and putting out distinctly Christian science fiction.** The trouble is, I’ m not Christian, and I wasn’t intending it as Christian science fiction, but rather, a critique of certain conservative viewpoints.
Is the reader wrong? Or am I dead?
“The artist is dead” is the idea that after an artist puts something out there, it is severed from them, and is in the hands and hearts and minds of the viewer. This points at the idea that art is subjective, that it depends on your interpretation and point of view.
Of course, some might say that the reader who looked at my story read it wrong, and didn’t see my message (or that my message was garbled through poor writing) and that the meaning is intimately connected to the artist, that the artists intentions are central to how we view the work.
Opinions about art and the artist range around and between these two ideas wildly. Recently my friend Tee Morris wrote a post about his own moral dilemma surrounding this issue, which lead me to think about how I deal with this particular issue. I agree that it is a difficult question – or rather, a difficult set of questions. Do we support artists who have viewpoints that we profoundly object to? Does it matter if the artist does not receive extra compensation for our consumption of their work? What if the artist collaborates with other artists whose work we DO want to support? Can an artist “infect” their own work with negative viewpoints, thus making the work itself morally objectionable? What if the artist holds negative moral views but does not act upon them other than to mutter them to herself? What if the artist takes morally reprehensible actions but these do not penetrate her work? Is the artist dead and does the work stand without them? Can we appreciate the work without the artist? Is the artist dead?
I give the work of living bigots a pass as much as I can.*** At least until I have consumed all the great work of non-bigots and dead bigots. Have I read the entire work of Sherman Alexie, Alice Walker, Octavia Bulter and Samuel Delany? No. I haven’t even read (or seen) all of Shakespeare’s plays! If I really want to read the bigot point of view, I need not turn to living writers who can benefit from my money, as there are many dead bigots who are available for perusal.
If the world had only ten, twenty or even a thousand books, I would just read them all, regardless. But the worlds books and artwork are more than I could ever plow though in a lifetime, and I have a choice as to how to spend it.
We all have to make our own decisions on these difficult questions, even if is that we don’t make a decision at all.
*Although sometimes she is drunk.
**According to this reader, it is hard to find.
***I do no particular research on the topic, but if I know about it, I’ll avoid them.