Jordan King Lacroix

Art vs artists – how do we decide?

The avid gamer in Jordan King Lacroix comes up against his ethical and moral guardian as he grapples with financially supporting the art of an  ‘artist’ whose personal beliefs don’t square with his own.


It’s a very difficult and slippery slope to find yourself sliding down.

You know the one.

That one that lies below that vast, beautiful plateau where we sit, liking an artist – a musician or actor or painter or whoever – so much so that we read their interviews, buy all their albums, follow their blog (if they keep one), or Google the hell out of them.

Heck, if we’re lucky, we get to meet them at a book signing, concert or convention.

Most of us know what it’s like to feel that a particular artist is a kindred spirit.

And then…it happens.

Out of the blue, you find something out about that person and it absolutely shatters your gut, makes you reel inside, and down that slope you slide, arse first.

What do you do to arrest this fall from grace?

It would take more than two hands for me to count the number of times this has happened to me. Wagner was an anti-Semite. Hemingway had undertones of it in his work also. Lovecraft was a racist, sexist and anti-Semite – I guess an all-round bigot. Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins is surprisingly religious, but what bothers me is that he is a conspiracy theorist interested in ‘chemtrails. One that recently disappointed me right to the core was that one of my favourite game and comic developers, creator of Earthworm Jim and The Neverhood, Doug TenNapel, is a hardcore Christian who is very anti-gay marriage. I could go on, but you get the idea.

I’m still an avid fan of the works of Hemingway and Lovecraft, and I enjoy Corgan’s work. So, too, with Doug TenNapel. (Watch Steven Fry talking with Craig Ferguson about his love for Wagner’s work despite hating the man himself.)

The real question is, where do we go from here?

Do we denounce these artists and boycott all further transactions with them because they insult some of our strongest beliefs?

Sometimes, yes. For example, I’m more than happy to do that with Abercrombie & Fitch in the wake of their ‘we are exclusionary insanity coming from Mike Jeffries.

But what about the things I’m not so happy to boycott?

I discovered Doug TenNapel’s beliefs recently when he was running a Kickstarter campaign for his new game concept Armikrog, which was to be a spiritual successor to The Neverhood, one of my all-time favourite games. I had thrown some money at the Kickstarter already, desperately hoping for the game to be made, when I found out. I was then faced with the gut-wrenching dilemma – do I leave my money with him because I want to see the game made, or pull my money out because of his beliefs?

I had been in Twitter contact occasionally with him in shows of support. If I pulled my funding, did I throw it out into the sphere and tell everyone why? As an artist, should I help ruin another artist because of a personal belief? Something unrelated to his art?

I can tell you right now, it was a very difficult decision. One that caused some serious problems for me.

In the end, I left my money with him. The truth is, I wanted that game made. I wanted to play it, I still do. A commenter on the article I read pointing out his anti-gay views noted that, while he was disappointed by TenNapel’s views, he could separate the art from the artist. This was a commendable notion, as many people aren’t able to make such a distinction. Maybe I could follow suit.

But the real question is, should we?

What if there was an artist now, a famous musician for example, who was a virulent anti-Semite? Someone who fervently hated Jews? As a Jewish person with a strong moral compass I would be hard-pressed to buy the art or attend the concert of such a person. And it’s not because this person’s hate affects me personally; I have a gay brother, and yet I let my money stay with TenNapel.

Oddly, my brother continues to boycott current Blizzard Entertainment releases, despite his love of the games they create. Why? After Activision took over Blizzard, the company began making decisions that were very much ‘anti-gamer’; for example, removing the LAN-play option from Starcraft II.

Now, this may not mean much to your average person, but to a gamer this was a big deal. And for a company that makes games to make anti-gamer decisions, it was too much to swallow for my brother.

I’ve spoken about this before, where Activision CEO Bobby Kotick said they wanted to make online play so good that people, ‘won’t even want to have LAN parties’. If you’re a gamer you know how ridiculous that statement is. This boycott is about a company who makes a product and seemingly hates the people who buy that product.

I suppose the question boils down to how much are we willing to put up with from artists when we really enjoy their work?

I don’t hesitate to say that in reality it’s a quite a lot.

In the end, though, I feel that it’s the social consequences that drive us the most. If my brother felt betrayed that I had given money to TenNapel, then it would be different. And I might feel differently about my decision if TenNapel was giving money to anti-gay organizations.

My feelings, however, were decidedly that the game itself was worth giving money to, because there are more people than Doug TenNapel working on it.

The question remains: Am I supporting a work of art that I feel deserves to exist, or am I supporting the artist, about whom my feelings are mixed?

Does the work of art shout out the artist’s beliefs or is it untouched by such?

Is it art, for art’s (and our) sake, standing on its own legs independently of the artist, or is it carefully crafted as a conduit for the artist’s values?

Post Note: This article mentions that by supporting TenNapel’s game, I am ‘excusing’ him his personal views, which could lead him to donating money to anti-gay organisations. I remain conflicted over this. On the one hand, I hope that the art stands for itself. In fact, I believe that it will. And on the other, if he never makes another game or comic again? I’m fine with that.

Jordan King Lacroix

Jordan King-Lacroix was born in Montreal, Canada but moved to Sydney, Australia when he was 8 years old. He has achieved a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Sydney and McGill University, Canada, as well as a Masters of Creative Writing from the University of Sydney.

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  5. R.W.- Chinnery said:

    Great piece Jordan. A particularly resonant issue for myself as an aficionado of underground and extreme music. It is a social ecosystem where exotic political fauna of every genus imaginable are to be found. I know a lot of people simply choose to disregard an artist’s political views, which aren’t necessarily present in the music anyway. I personally don’t care when an artist whose work I like disagrees with me on a particular issue or set of issues. In the cases that they subscribe to an entire ideology that is antithetical to any notion of decency, however, I find it harder to make the argument to myself that their creative output is not part and parcel of what they stand for.

  6. Bugeja (PB)Paul Bugela said:

    Agreed CP. It poses the question – can beauty be conceived and created entirely separate to someone’s core beliefs.

  7. Crookedpaw said:

    It’s incredibly difficult to reconcile beauty created by someone that offends your fundamental belief system. How the hell can someone so diametrically opposed to your character, someone that you would have very little to do with in person, produce something that inspires feelings of awe and delight?

    But then that’s the trouble with the aesthetic and the fundamental. For most of us, the border between the two are blurred, and when a conflict like this erupts, it can be nigh on impossible to remain neutral.

  8. Bugeja (PB)Paul Bugela said:

    It’s still, as Jordan describes it, a slippery slope, right?

  9. Enzo said:

    I think as long as your money isn’t going to his project and the PROJECT is espousing discrimination, then surely that’s less of an issue? He’s entitled to his opinions. Hopefully he doesn’t get to spread them like a virus.

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