Chuck (charlesofcamden) wrote,

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Art . . . . . . . . Artist (A Fable)

An archeologist digging in a far-off land once made a remarkable discovery. He came across a stack of ancient papyri, well preserved with almost entirely legible text. The words were written in an ancient language known to only a few scholars, so it took years of hard work to translate all of it. What emerged was a series of poems and stories, all from the same author. Even in their translated form, they awed all who read them. Their imagery was stunning, their passion was incandescent, and their insight into humanity broadened the horizons of all who read them. Their impact upon society in general, and upon the art world in particular, was profound. As the years passed, these works became an entrenched part of world culture. Years became decades, and decades became centuries. The influence of these works spread into every corner of society, and the still-anonymous author was as ubiquitous in his field as DaVinci or Newton were in their fields. He was firmly ensconced in the pantheon of great authors alongside the likes of Plato and Shakespeare.

Then one day, many many years later, another archeologist made a series of discoveries that greatly added to our understanding of that author. Finally, a name could be put to him. Not only a name, but a great deal of personal information about his life. The picture was not a pretty one. It seemed that the author had been most unprincipled in his personal conduct. He stood accused in these ancient writings of a litany of offenses, including, but not limited to, drunkenness, adultery, sodomy, patricide, devil worship, and cowardice in time of war. The emergence of additional historical records confirmed that he had been imprisoned and ultimately executed for his crimes, as well as for his strident non-repentance even as he stood before the executioner.

It further became clear that a great effort had been made in ancient times to destroy all of the man’s works, including any reference to him in the works of others. Now it made sense why so great an author as he had been so utterly absent from the historical record.

With the publishing of these new findings, a great debate arose as to how this should affect the author’s place in society. There were those who argued that the ancients had gotten it right – that a man of such exceptional evil taints all that he touches; that to embrace his works is to embrace the man; that we might even become like him if we accepted any part of him into our society. Some of these people used this man as an example of why evil persisted so virulently in society – we have accepted the devil as a great man; we teach his works in all of our schools. We should not then be surprised when our society becomes ugly and corrupt.

There were others, though, who took a very different view – that a person is not One Thing, i.e., a person is not Good or Evil, period. Some of the more tolerant religious individuals cited the “let he who is without sin…” etc. line of thought. They wondered who among us has not done both evil and good in our lives, that we might have the moral authority to pass such harsh judgment. Some simply declared that we should accept the good works and reject the evil works, and we should take what wisdom we might find from both of them.

So what was society’s ultimate verdict on this question? I cannot say – the debate still rages. It rages not only over the ancient author cited above, but over any number of more recent artists. You don’t need me to fill in the names; you already know them. As for my own opinion in the matter, I’ll say this – sometimes, bad people do good things, and vice-versa. To deny this simple truth is to deny human nature.

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