Separating art from artist

There is an ethical conundrum I’ve been curious about for a while. The problem is this: If I don’t agree with the politics of an artist or businessman, can I still buy their art or patronize their establishment? How do you draw the line?

For me, this first came up with Carl’s Jr, a fast food burger joint primarily in the west and southwest of America (in the east  Hardees stores are basically the same). Carl’s Jr. was started and, until he died in 2008, owned by Carl Karcher, who was a well known conservative and supporter of anti-gay legislation – something to which I am violently opposed. So my question was could I ethically eat at the restaurant when I knew I didn’t believe in what the owners believed. Was I just giving my money to this guy? I rationalized it like this: The company itself didn’t support these causes so therefore, I wasn’t breaking any of my own ethical taboos. This is opposed to Chik-fil-a which has corporate policies in place supporting agendas I don;t believe in.

So okay, I felt uncompromised if I was giving money to a corporation and the corporation was paying an employee and the employee was doing whatever they wanted with the money they earned. I could live with this.

But what about art and artists? Can I, who was raised Jewish, still enjoy “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” once I found out Eliot was an anti-semite? Does it lessen his work? And this brings me to Orson Scott Card and the current controversy surrounding the upcoming film version of his award-winning novel Ender’s Game. Card, for those of you not in the know, is a  board member of the National Organization for Marriage, a religiously based group dedicated to preventing same-sex marriage and Card himself is on record as advocating violence against the government in order to ensure his views are enacted.

I’m of two minds here. In one, I think Alyssa Rosenberg has written a great piece, An Ethical Guide To Consuming Content Created By Awful People Like Orson Scott Card, dealing with the issue in a wonderfully even-handed way. But at the same time, I wonder what is our responsibility in all this. Not long ago, Card was hired by DC comics to write a story for their flagship character, Superman. A huge public outcry sprang up, including the artist leaving the project in protest until finally, Card was released from his contract and the story was put on hold. I’m all for the market determining the course of action and while I certainly support a boycott, my question is do we really think his political agenda would be allowed in a Superman story? Is his political agenda present and prevalent in Ender’s Game? (Okay, it is certainly there in Hamlet’s Father, a retelling of Hamlet in modern prose which adjusts some of the character’s back stories, so we know not to buy that one.)

So my question is this: do we have any obligation to separate the art from the artist? Or is our obligation to not support the artist with whom we are morally opposed, regardless of our taste for the art?

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