"Sit down, let me tell you a story. Once upon a time I ate your hamster this morning."

Of artists and assholes

"Sit down, let me tell you a story. Once upon a time I ate your hamster this morning."Orson Scott Card doesn’t make a hill of beans’ worth of difference to me. I never read him until I was an adult (and haven’t read Ender’s Game), I was underwhelmed with the Alvin Maker series, and aside from his strong views on homosexuality, he has some other truly whacko ideas that also thoroughly and completely offend my libertarian sensibilities.

I weighed in on the controversy over his short story “Hamlet’s Father” because I can’t stand it when people rant about books they haven’t read. That is intellectually dishonest, and the people I saw doing this promote themselves as intellectually honest. Sorry, nope. Get off your fucking high horse and read the fucking book, then come back and talk to me.

A couple of days ago, I was cleaning out my feed reader and old web articles I’d saved and came across this: Broken, by Lefsetz, a music industry critic, in which he opines about the necessity of great art to come out of broken people. So this was already on my mind when I had an email conversation with a friend who is grieving her relationship with Card’s work because he personally is an asshole.

So this is what I said:

You wanna know why lit programs take the author out of the work? Because they don’t want to know what assholes the authors are.

I don’t know why anybody thinks an asshole can’t write empathetic characters. All you have to do is observe people and understand human nature. And in the end, the authors will reveal themselves to you in one of their characters, or leave bits of themselves in all of them (cf this article’s reference to Peter—the villain, I take it?).

Charles DickensDickens was an ass. Scrooge? Maybe parts of him.

Hitler was a talented artist.

Artists, great ones, are depressive, narcissistic, selfish, mentally ill, and sometimes evil. There are some who know how to act in public and some who don’t. It just kinda goes along with the artist thing.

It’s just that now people have access to these artists’ assholery and they don’t like the type of personality it takes to make great art. Not only that, but they don’t want them to self-medicate to mediate the bad personality traits but keep the great art. They want them to be emotionally stable. They want them to be normal.

Oh, hello, Van Gogh. Mozart. Polanski. (Shall we talk about Polanski?)

But art that touches people doesn’t come out of normal.

Card fans are grieving. Deeply, by the tenor of what I’m reading around the web. While I understand it, I’m kind of unsympathetic because people want great art, but they don’t want people to have the characteristics of what it takes to make great art.

15 thoughts on “Of artists and assholes

  1. Kristen

    I don’t know if I can agree that it takes certain characteristics (by and large) to create good art. And I’ve been as annoyed as you are by people who want to worship the artist because they like the art. What bothers me is not that people seem to not want their artists to have certain characteristics, but that they’re far too willing to overlook terrible behavior because, “Look what they MADE!”

    It’s as if some people believe that what assholes create somehow excuses the evil in the artist. In fact, it’s as if they’re saying, “But he NEEDS to be that way to make good art! It’s cool!”

    The thing is, they’ll put them on an asshole pedestal.

  2. Moriah Post author

    I can’t disagree with that, being willing to overlook the horrible person for the art. That would be the other side of the coin.

    There are many artists on my list of “I shouldn’t patronize this artist but I will because I like their work so much,” e.g., Barbra Streisand. And there are others whose work I am indifferent to so it’s easy for me to say, “I’m not patronizing that artist.”

    I’m very careful not to know too much about artists whose work I really admire, but my friend got slapped upside the head with it, as do we all sometimes.

  3. Mike Cane

    In Card’s case, I can’t say whether he’s an asshole or not. His entire argument rests on *what he was told by others* — his religious beliefs. The worst I can say about him is being an unthinking parrot. Which, you know, is not what artists are supposed to be. We go against the grain. Malcontentedness becomes our default setting. And we arrive at that by *independent thinking.*

  4. WHM

    This: “You wanna know why lit programs take the author out of the work? Because they don’t want to know what assholes the authors are.”

    is awesome and hilarious, MoJo. Of course, by the same token, lit profs can make a reputation on showing how big of assholes the authors are (both in terms of literary biography and critical analysis of their work).

    I’ve also been following the commentary on OSC with interest and find myself often agreeing with both sides of the issue. Yes, artists shouldn’t be blackballed just because of what they believe. Yes, liberal sanctimony is lame (just like conservative sanctimony is). Yes, what OSC has said in relation to the issue of same sex marriage (and other issues) is inflammatory, and, in my opinion, wrong. So yeah, both sides. Civility and artistic freedom. Blah blah blah.

    But the major thing I keep coming back to is how I have a difficult time using OSC as a test case or a flash point for any of the issues swirling around him. His artistic work has gotten worse the more strident he has become politically. And as much as he has been a target of liberal sanctimony, he’s also not seemed to be shy about playing the role of martyr or been shy about pushing buttons either.

    No one owes us anything. And if you want access to audiences or powers that be or the secret SFWA cabals or, whatever, well, then convince them that you’re worth listening to. Or find your own audience.

  5. Moriah Post author

    His artistic work has gotten worse the more strident he has become politically.

    I’m so glad you said that because I wouldn’t know. It’s telling, though.

  6. Moriah Post author

    His entire argument rests on *what he was told by others* — his religious beliefs.

    Yeah, but I was taught the same things he was (and been subjected to even more strident and harmful philosophies in other denominations), which were really rather negligible as a percentage of time spent on the subject, so if he’s an unthinking parrot, whoever he was listening to had a real hard-on for the subject. *snerk*

  7. barbara 'kitten' trumpinski-roberts

    I passed this along to a friend of mine who will probably be very interested. He used to teach science fiction (and still teaches Russian) at Dalhausie U. in Halifax. I love your take on artists.

    Are the other stories in The Ghost Quartet worth reading?

    I find it fascinating that you and Card are two of the few Mormon authors I have read…Just goes to show you can’t judge a book by its religion…*snort*

  8. Pingback: This Week in Mormon Literature, March 8, 2013 | Dawning of a Brighter Day

  9. Moriah Post author

    Are the other stories in The Ghost Quartet worth reading?

    Don’t know. Didn’t read ‘em. I bought the book specifically to read it and review it because somebody shot off their mouth after reading an inflammatory (and shrilly hyperbolic) review of it without actually reading the book.

    Generally, I don’t care for shorter fiction because I like an immersive experience (not unlike a Cafe Experience TM Rand Paul) that lasts a while. It’s why I’ve always loved doorstopper books.

    I suspect the collection was one where Card was the anchor store.

  10. Moriah Post author

    Th., yes. Yes, you are. And I love that about you.

    I, however, am an asshole. Yet one that has not managed to make great art. So I’m the lowest of the low…

  11. Kashif Ansari

    art tickles and writers write articles. now you have just written all this bullshit (of which you yourself are not that aware). but that doesn’t mean i won’t defend your right to say it. thats what freedom of expression is for. but do at least respect those billions of artists around the world (some mental and others rental for believe me that is the only difference between the mad ones and the bad ones…the former at least don’t sell their soul and end up in the mental asylums). they may be way ahead of their time. freedom of expression also means that if someone goes too far like insulting family the other guy has the right to punch him in the face for it. i mean seriously there is a limit to the amount of nuisance and abuse others will suffer before they reach their limit and vomit. where there are artists there will be censorship although i still believe that censorship itself is a product of sick minds. no, not just sick but twisted morbid minds. the more free a society the more it is humane and even has pity on its worst criminals. now what was i saying…yes artists…ahem…you see the only thing with artists is that they are very sensitive souls and sometimes in their sensitivity they for-get that you have to be sensitive to other peoples needs too. behavior matters. in your home you can wipe your shit on the walls if you like but outside oh its a different matter. people won’t for-give you for its a cruel world out there that wasn’t made by our parents but rather the kleptocrats and bureaucrats who are both nothing but a bunch of dirty rats. art beyond a certain point doesn’t have to look to perverted ends…rather it must seek regeneration and rejuvenation in a renaissance. the tools have to be sharpened and the whole zeitgeist must be made anew. today the world is jaded. the dust has settled and everywhere you go you find a mcdonalds, a citibank and a starbucks. what that spells is monotony and conformity. thats why the rich can get away with saying that the masses are asses. whereas the real fact is that were it not for the poor who slave away in sweat shops the rich would be in deep trouble. if some piss poor artist tries to add some color or beauty to life what is your problem hunh? by calling them mad you merely show your own ignorance and in fact show that you merely dislike them. they in re-turn may dislike you and call you a phoney or pious pontiff. live and let live i say. the world needs its artists and it needs its writers. it needs its critics too but re-member critics are seldom creative. they just latch on to whatever catches their attention and like parasites suck the very life blood out of the poor entity. the times are very critical and so criticism should take a rest and a break. all these parents obsessed about their childrens moral guidance and educational career. such stupidity. cant you just let nature take its course. the west mismanages its children by excess and not by default. give them some breathing space puh-lease! finally when i see some of stuff people get themselves into thanks to the so called standards, norms and laws i feel sad. it were better to just let things be. why throw a spanner into the works. do we have to analyze everything. wouldn’t radical honesty solve so many problems like the backstabbing hypocrisy you find so rife today.

  12. Moriah Post author

    Thanks for stopping by, Kashif.

    You said:

    you see the only thing with artists is that they are very sensitive souls and sometimes in their sensitivity they for-get that you have to be sensitive to other peoples needs too.

    Right. And then they act like assholes.

    Now, you say that I spewed some bullshit. I’ll cop to that. I very often spew bullshit. However, then you go on to say this:

    those billions of artists around the world (some mental and others rental for believe me that is the only difference between the mad ones and the bad ones…the former at least don’t sell their soul and end up in the mental asylums).

    You’ve just made a judgment on people who do art for hire. So…where’s the bullshit here?

    if some piss poor artist tries to add some color or beauty to life what is your problem hunh?

    I have no problem with it. That’s my point. I don’t understand why others do. If that’s bullshit, then…why are you agreeing with me?

    the world needs its artists and it needs its writers.

    Did I say it didn’t? It seems to me you read a whole lot more into my post than I said. Did you also notice I’m a novelist? Of course I think the world needs its artists. Hemingway was a drunkard asshole. The world still needs his work.

    I picked out your comments pertinent to the subject. The rest, I don’t really understand why you’re taking me to task. I’m not a) rich, b) bashing artists, c) decrying the need for art, d) a critic, or e) in charge of the world.

    But thanks for coming by. I’m glad I could serve as a sounding board.

  13. christineplouvier

    I agree with you about Hitler’s art. He gets written off as an artist because he failed the art academy entrance exams, but nobody mentions that it was because he wasn’t good at portraiture, and that the academy encouraged him to apply to the school of architecture, instead. He was happy to pursue that option until he found out that because he’d been an asshole teenager who’d engaged in recreational flunking (to piss off his father by disqualifying himself to take the civil service exam), his high school math scores weren’t good enough to get him into architecture. He had only himself to blame for cutting off his own nose to spite his face, and he knew it. I think it’s interesting that after becoming Germany’s head of state, except for how he fostered the development of compact cars and interstate highway systems, he ended up becoming one of the world’s worst civil servants, after all.

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