Enemies Of The Arts

There are many things that discourage artists; lack of arts funding, competition, favoritism, nepotism, social status seeking, poverty, jealousy, critics, gate keepers etc. But the most discouraging thing is prissy, self-righteous moralists who attack the work or the artist himself for petty offenses. Unfortunately the ranks of prissy moralists has been increasing and now includes a large number of people and institutions which pose as the friends of the arts.

The current mania for social justice in particular is converting artists and art institutions into prissy moralists. Many conservatives see the current social justice movement as some kind of cult which has developed a petty moral system to replace the one lost by our lack of faith in God or the gods. This is an interesting theory although we have to be wary of the conservative agenda to defend social injustice, economic inequality,  and outrageous immorality.  Most artists are liberals and refuse to pay any attention to what conservatives have to say. Being lost in their own little bubble means they have not listened to criticism and have not reflected on how their behavior appears to others. Many artists don’t realize that their politics and in particular their morality has begun to overshadow their love of the arts.

The worst thing that so called art supporters are now doing is deplatforming other artists over perceived moral transgressions. Not only are they trying to silence their fellow artists, they also seek to erase the artist’s legacy by having artwork removed from museums, taken out of anthologies, deleted, black listed, or in rare instances destroyed. They are demanding that funding of the artist’s work be denied and that art institutions join them in denouncing artists and renounce their association with the transgressor. Artists are now policing other artists. The list of things they are policing can be ridiculously long. The best way to see just how ridiculous this has gotten is to take note of the long list of potential transgressions a literary writer has to mindful of when submitting to a woke literary publication:

There will be no consideration of material that is sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist, Islamophobic, transphobic, misogynist, cis-sexist, anti-Semitic, or serophobic (prejudiced against seropositives, i.e. people with Aids, I had to look that one up). No entries containing violence or derogatory or hateful language.

My god, what is there left to write about? Well I guess they forgot ageist so I could submit my stories making fun of dotards. This is what I mean by prissy morality. Their moral universe has expanded to include just about everything under the sun. You would have to be a perfect angel to get anything accepted by this literary publication. What this leaves us with is bland, tepid writing that has nothing to say so it cannot possibly offend anyone.

In addition to policing an artist’s work for an ever expanding list of hateful content, the artist’s relationships will also be policed. If an artist is accused of engaging in abusive relationships he will be ostracized. All it takes is a vindictive former girlfriend to make such an accusation and the artist faces total erasure and the end of his career. Not that this is limited to men. Many women artists are just as driven and unstable as men artists and they have the same tendency to prioritize their work over their relationships.

Of course, it would be unreasonable to forgive the artist for every immoral act. The artistic genius does not get a free pass regardless of how vile his or her actions may be. There are situations where it becomes a question of which artist you are going to support. For example, let’s say you forgive a male poet for his abusive relationships with female poets. But his abusive treatment of female poets has actually discouraged them and destroyed them emotionally. He destroyed their potential to create great art. In this situation, you would be favoring the male poet, possibly because you consider him the greater poet. You would be excusing bad behavior for the sake of his work and its value for you. The way out of this dilemma is to make a distinction between words and behavior, the work of art and the actions of the artist. Nobody should be excused for outrageously bad behavior but we can’t hold writers and other creators responsible for the imaginary outrages contained in their imaginative works.

This moral climate is particularly troubling for the playwright because a good playwright is a bit of a contrarian. A good playwright isn’t going to approach a moral dilemma solely from the perspective of the self-righteous because he has to consider the other side in order to create a character representing that side of the argument. For the moral scold this can lead to confusion as to where the playwright stands on an issue. The playwright will appear to be giving good arguments for both sides of the issue. An example of this is the play Oleanna by David Mamet which can appear to be a statement on the Me-Too movement. But Mamet does not take a clear moral stand so the play can also be taken as a satire on the social justice movement. I can tell you that David Mamet is dangerously close to being persona non grata in the theater community because he is considered to be a misogynist.

A playwright also delights in people behaving badly and he will want to make their outrageous behavior the subject of his play. A good playwright isn’t going to avoid controversy. He is going to zero in on controversy because that is where the most conflict is to be found and dramatic writing thrives on conflict. When the audience cannot distinguish between the characters behaving badly and the playwright endorsing bad behavior, the playwright will be in serious trouble.

There is a lot more to be said on this topic. For example, the dangerous climate can perversely be encouraging because writing something can get you into trouble. Some people live for trouble because they enjoy the attention it brings. What is worse than getting into trouble for your writing is being ignored. If your writing solicits no response whatsoever then you might even crave creating some controversy.

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