Comic book luminary (and occasional film director) Frank Miller laid out his feelings on the worldwide Occupy movement last week on his blog. Just in time for Veteran’s Day weekend, Miller reminded readers that “America is at war against a ruthless enemy” and “These clowns [in the Occupy protests] can do nothing but harm America.”

You can read the full - screed? I think screed is the appropriate word - on Miller’s blog post, titled Anarchy.

Miller’s rant has been widely circulated around social media in the last week, and I think I’ve seen more coverage of the blog entry than of his most recent book. Much of the reaction seems to be shock about Miller’s politics, with some fans discovering the creator’s views aren’t quite what they thought. The most popular response to the post sums up the reaction pretty well - “I used to be your biggest fan. You’re now dead to me.”

The blog post and responses brought up a question that pops up from time to time, not just in comics but all popular media: Is it possible to separate a piece of art from the artist that created it?

Coming from the world of books, Orson Scott Card is a perennial example. Card is the author of dozens of popular science fiction novels, including modern sci-fi classics Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead. The author is also a vocal opponent of gay rights, and a critic of the science behind global warming. You wouldn’t be able to guess any of these views from his earlier novels, but they’ve had a habit of sneaking into his more recent work. Loving the art and not the artist is particularly tricky with Card, who donates money to political associations sharing his views. From Brett Ratner to Tom Cruise to Hank Williams Jr., we’ve seen that personal politics have a serious impact on artists, whether or not they are reflected in their work.

Within the world of comic creators, there’s no shortage of examples. No matter how great the art is, I can’t recall reading an article on Ethan Van Sciver without seeing his political beliefs decried within the first dozen comments. I have friends that refuse to buy any work from Dave Sim, based on his well-known anti-feminist views. Chuck Dixon and Bill Willingham are two more creators that fall to the right politically, and are whose views are thus often discussed and debated online. On the other side of the political aisle, a comic shop in North Carolina attempted to lead a boycott of Grant Morrison’s Action Comics, objecting to some content and calling Morrison a “liberal Scottish schmuck.” For everything from sex to violence to anti-Americanism, comic creators and companies get criticized by the conservative wing of the US press.

Outside of politics, everything from an advocacy of “Growing Earth Theory” to advocacy of a diet consisting entirely of Slurpees and cereal gets discussed by readers.

More often than not, I don’t think that a creator’s work explicitly reveals their political views. I’ve never detected any conservative propaganda in the pages of The Flash: Rebirth or Green Lantern: Rebirth, and I don’t think an issue of Action Comics will turn me into a pinko. 9 times out of 10, I’d bet I couldn’t guess correctly what beliefs a creator brings to the table outside of the story itself. Miller is a (somewhat extreme) example of the other end of the spectrum; someone who does bring their politics into their work, especially in recent years. And, for better or worse, the world of Twitter and Facebook and message boards and podcasts means we know artists and writers more intimately than ever before.

Now, the point of this post is not to open up a debate about whose views are “right” or “wrong” when it comes to creators. Even if you could argue that most comic creators (or comic fans, for that matter) lean a certain way politically, anyone could surely pull together a list of people they do and don’t agree with. The point is more to ask the question of whether we can separate art from the artist. Can you? Do you? Should you? Is knowing too much about the person that wrote or drew the comic you’re holding a Pandora’s Box that can’t be closed, or are you glad we live in an age that allows us well-nigh unlimited access to the creative class?

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2 Responses to “The Art vs. The Artist”

  1. Leslie says:

    I normally don’t have a hard time separating an artist/writer’s work from their political views with one exception that you already named - Orson Scott Card. I loved Ender’s Game and it was my gateway into science fiction when I was a kid, but I just feel a bit weird reading his books now. If I do, I get them from the library because I do not want to give that man my money.

    I have a harder time with actors probably because every aspect of their lives are shoved in our faces, but thankfully writers don’t get that much exposure so it’s easier, imo.

  2. Greg says:

    I think one can and should separate art from the artist for critical purposes, when possible, with two caveats:

    1. Separating does not mean forgetting. We can know that TS Eliot was a bigot, or that Elia Kazan was a part of the red scare, without that making their works bad. It can inform our opinion of them as historical figures and of their art, but it needn’t discount. I don’t think complete separation is possible or desirable.

    2. There are artworks that are extensions enough of a person so as to have a morality or value judgement with them. DW Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” is an important movie that is also racist and degrading. Ayn Rand’s novels are as much about right-wing politics as they are their characters. In such cases, the artist hasn’t tried to separate him or herself, so we shouldn’t, either.

    Nice post, Josh. Where are you on this debate?

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