How do we judge art?

The revelations about Marion Zimmer Bradley continue to shock and horrify people, and with good reason.  It seems that the abuse and molestation were something of open secrets to those closest to MZB, so much so that:

Thenceforth the ——– kids were under instructions to retire into their room and barricade the door with furniture whenever Walter was in the house. They did too.

People knew, and did nothing, or dis very little, to stop the predators.  That same document linked says that some people excused the infamous Walter Breen (MZB’s husband), by saying that he was so childlike.  You know, like Michael Jackson.

Understand also, the above document, which is very difficult to read due to its graphic nature, was published first in 1964.  It shocks and horrifies in today’s more licentious culture, but this came out before the sexual revolution had even really started.  And the reaction to all of this coming to light, again, 50 years later, is telling.  Vox Day of course wants the SFWA to be implicated as a co- conspirator, and his reasoning is sound:

There is no more possibility of denying the facts. SFWA knowingly shields, supports, defends, and even praises child molesters. It should be obvious that any SFWA member who continues to associate with SFWA despite this long-time and continuing institutional support of child molestation is, at the very least, tolerant of those who rape and abuse children.

In the question of how to deal with these type of people in the future, there should be little doubt: they should be shunned and ostracized at the very least, and prosecuted by the law where necessary.  And no publisher should ever touch one of their manuscripts again.

But there is still the question of how do we approach the work that has already been published by these people?  As far as I know, no one has accused MZB of writing fiction that supports her personal proclivities.  There seem to be two camps, those who think that the work can be judged separately from the author, and those that think that it cannot.  And again, I will point out that the camps are almost entirely flipped when the same issue is raised about Orson Scott Card.

Here’s how I see it: if I accept that OSC’s work might be able to be appreciated on its own, without regard to his personal beliefs, then I must extend the same to MZB.  Of course, I also believe that OSC’s opinions about same sex marriage has not destroyed anyone’s life, the way that MZB’s actions did, and that brings up the conundrum for a lot of people, I think.  There are some who are so enamored of MZB’s writings that they are willing to excuse her very real conduct against others.  And many of those same people despise OSC, and try to ban his work, because he his a personal belief that he has publicly expressed which has not, to my knowledge, made him guilty of any more than offending some people’s sensibilities.

So which works do we ban?  Those by people whose political views we cannot abide, or those whose personal conduct we cannot abide?  Or, again, should we judge the art separate from the artist?

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2 Responses to How do we judge art?

  1. Susan Kaye says:

    I fall into the judge separately category. But, the problem with even that is as time goes by and the work of the reprobate remains in circulation, their behavior fades into the mists of time. Unless their character is brought to light from time-to-time their work becomes the only thing for which they are known.

  2. gnardopolo says:

    Sarah Hoyt posted a piece along these same lines this morning.  I can claim first!, but her self-claimed incoherent ramblings are much better than my post.

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