Did you know that Hitler, yes, that Hitler—history’s greatest monster—was a painter? That he was a creator of art?
It’s a bit of a head fuck.
But, no matter how odd to consider, this fact works as a good starting place for a discussion about something that has been bothering me for a long time. Also, I’m sorry to say, if you are reading this think piece and expecting an answer at the end then you are going to be disappointed.
But, here we go, if you are still willing to play ball with me, here’s my question: what if you, or someone you know, likes Hitler’s paintings as painting? What does that mean? What does that say about them?
I ask because the whole premise of this can expand out to all sorts of examples. The following situation happens to me a lot: I enjoy something, get really into something, then find out the creator has, at one point or another, insulted, attacked, belittled, or otherwise openly spoke against something important to me.
My beliefs, my lifestyle, my values. All of it can, and has, been mocked somehow by someone who made something I liked.
The mental dissonance of this is staggering, I must tell you. And, once I know of this happening with a creator, at least with me, I can’t unknow. Ignorance really is bliss in this situation. Every second I interact with something that is made by someone that I know attacked something important to me, it mars it, taints the creation. Ash in my mouth. I cannot passively enjoy the art anymore.
And, sure, some say you can sweep this concern under the rug. And, if you can, honestly, truly, then I envy you. Because I sure as hell can’t.
I mean, “get a thicker skin” is all well and good. That helps with mental calm, yeah, but it’s not just what they said that’s the issue for me.
It’s that, in however small a way, by even interacting with it, I am supporting that person.
Let’s bring it back to the core Hitler example. Anyone who might have bought one of Hitler’s paintings gave him money (and I have no idea if someone did buy his paintings, but that’s beside the point), and, in this hypothetical, by buying that piece of art, they directly helped him—even if they had no idea what he might do with that money.
As a narrower example, what if you bought a picture from an artist who then used that money to buy a gun and murdered someone? Would you feel guilt over it? Once you found out, how would you feel about the thing they made? Would you rip apart the picture? Burn your copy? What if this person, instead, made a popular television show? Would you swear it off entirely? Forever?
For some things, that might be the answer to come to, maybe. Sure, sometimes, with some creations, you can just cut it out of your life. But, let’s say it’s something more precious. What if being a fan of this thing is the entire premise of a relationship, romantic or otherwise?
Just how far are you really willing to go?
I ask myself this stuff a lot. It kind of haunts me sometimes. I mean, yeah, I’m over thinking it, but it is part of life, especially now, and there’s also more, a lot more to this issue if you think about it hard. This, this thought, is the real kick to the fucking teeth: if you decide the disconnecting path, how far out are you willing to go? Let’s say you’re anti-abortion, and a major film production company, one of the truly huge ones, came out in support of abortions?
Would you, could you, manage to give it all up for self-integrities’ sake? Wait…actually, let’s put self-integrity aside for a second even because we are not just talking about morals here. We are talking logistics. We are talking lifestyle. Media, like it or not, is now a nigh-universal thing in our society. It’s shared and talked about, and not being up to date is alienating. You can lose whole friendships. You can be left behind.
And, even if, regardless of that concern, you still try to distance yourself from all the media that offends you, the lines of your standards can get blurry right quick.
Hypothetically, let’s say one actor said something you hate, and you swear off him. No more of that actor. “No more,” you scream to the heavens. Nothing he is in, you will watch. But, what if he worked with a company that makes a movie franchise you like? What if he’s worked, at one point or another, with every major film company? Those companies paid him, they supported him—directly or indirectly—and buying their stuff, seeing their movies, might support him now or down the road. So, do swear that off too?
And perhaps you say sure, okay, fine. Good. But what about every other actor in those movies? Again, success for one can mean success for others. They did profit off that actor, in a way.
You can ponder this for hours. Trust me when I say it can go on, and on, and on, and on. And it’s never not going to be an issue. In our increasingly boycott-advocating social landscape, which will—just you wait, if not already—define people based on what they engage in, it’s more and more present. If you dislike political correctness, just wait for everything you interact with to be potentially scrutinized.
And, yeah, this is a first world problem, sure, but that doesn’t make it not a real problem. In trying to figure out how to deal with this, I always come back to two slippery slope options. Either swear off everything that might contain anything that is insulting, and by extension become an almost media hermit, OR, become a nihilistic, fuck-it-all who shouts “Who cares! Who cares who made it? This show is rad, and it makes me happy, and who cares if a genocidal monster made it? Who cares how many he hurt—even possibly while amid making this art?”
And I don’t like either option. Obviously. Those are both extreme.
But, if not that, then what? Make a series of specific rules regarding this issue for yourself? Come up with a workable system that applies to all situations, every time? I’ve tried that too, and, logically, that requires either in-depth searching for potential issues on everything before you view it, or, entrenched, willful ignorance. These options, in this situation, are the only real ways to make decisions that are not hypocritical in the long run.
Don’t get me wrong, I just want to like the things that I like, but I hit this issue. If everything is truly political like people say, then I am—whether I like it or not—making a goddamn statement with every click of a video or reading of an article. I am supporting someone, perhaps many people, with every action I do to enjoy a piece of art. Life, obviously, has much more important things to deal with, to worry about. But…still…it is something, so add it to the goddamn pile.
Because even liking something has implications.
I tend to think of artworks – be they a physical form (such as Hitler’s paintings) or a work where the body of the creator becomes something else (such as acting) – as the ‘offspring’ of the artist. You shouldn’t judge the child by the actions of the parents after these children are grown and making decisions of their own – why should you judge an artwork by its creator’s foibles?
I certainly push more toward the nihilistic end of your spectrum – this (insert artform here) is very interesting, so I’m gonna appreciate the form and to hell with what society thinks on the artist.
Hmm, an “offspring” of the artist. That’s interesting, I hadn’t thought of that viewpoint.
I too am closing to the nihilistic side, but I do flip flop sometimes.
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Somewhere in the middle ground is a place where you can live comfortably: Trying to spend the majority of your money in places where you have worked out that they have similar values to you. Money is a vote, it’s a vote for a company that lobbies against GMO labeling (Starbucks), or it’s a vote for a company that forces some workers to stay part time by one minute to avoid fair pay (Wal-Mart). Money is a vote for an insurance company that sponsors religious discrimination (Gieco). I try to choose, in any recurring expense, to stay away from feeding corporations with bad values. I try not to judge actors by their politics, though, or artists by their actions. I usually let the art speak for itself.
In regards to your Hitler example: Hitler’s paintings were a window into his world. It’s easy to say he was all evil. He was the passionate mouthpiece for a political mindset that slowly allowed more and more evil things to be sanctioned, that slowly marched over five decades in the direction of believing themselves superior and others subhuman. Part of the mindset of dispassion is to create an US/THEM dichotomy. And then you can treat THEM as OTHER than you. But if you are on the US side, you’re idealized and idyllicized. His artwork spoke of his belief in a pastoral and urban “true Germany” that as we know led to some terrible acts.
The detachment he felt towards humanity is evident in his paintings, the care and detail is always applied to structure. Never to the human subjects.