Speaking Beauty From Power

North Korea’s response to The Interview, and the discussion of whether artists are responsible for other people’s reactions to their work it provoked, reminded me of this TED video:

And also Dylan S Hearn’s discussion of the Facebook emotion manipulation experiment.

I still believe, as I commented on Hearn’s article, that most artists don’t owe a special responsibility for their art.

However – unlike many people denying artists bear responsibility for the actions of their audience – my stance is based on the existence of a wider responsibility; that of each person to take reasonable steps to avoid harm to their neighbour.

If I suggest a particular group are being oppressed by a secret cabal in a government then I can foresee it might provoke action. If I write my theory down and use all my skill to make it both plausible and emotionally compelling I can foresee it is more likely to provoke action. So, the artist’s responsibility comes not because they are an artist, but because they are more likely to produce an outcome; in the same way that people releasing podcasts on religion, politics, or macramé have a greater responsibility not to imply violence is a solution than a person talking casually to a friend.

Art is stronger without censorship, but that does not mean artists are exempt from the responsibilities that each citizen bears.

Do you believe artist’s bear no responsibility for what their audience does? Do you believe certain topics should always be off-limits?

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2 thoughts on “Speaking Beauty From Power

  1. I believe that artists are only responsible for the content that they put into their works–not necessarily the content that people take from it.

    For example, I don’t think that the Beatles have any responsibility for the murder of Sharon Tate. “Helter Skelter” has no reference to breaking into people’s houses and killing them.

    On the other hand, I do think that Al Gore should take responsibility for the violence done by Greenpeace and other eco-terrorists. By couching his rhetoric in catastrophic terms he does encourage desperate measures.

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    1. That seems fairly close to my suggestion of the artist bearing responsibility for what is reasonably foreseeable.

      Thinking about it further, part of the debate might stem from an assumption that being responsible imposes more burden than it does, or excuses the actions of the person actually doing something.

      For example, if my words incite someone to commit a crime, then that person is still responsible whether or not I am also. And my responsibility isn’t necessarily not to say those things at all, but to clarify or condemn misinterpretations.

      So, I can say Astral Teapot worshippers are the only people granted the right to live by Tet Li, but to avoid responsibility for people deciding to speed up the inheriting of the Sugar Bowl of Plenty must also say that is not a call to murder.

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