The Incompetent Whore Strikes Again (Gilmour posting 2)

“I am an honest artist, because what I write is consciously intended to reach the customer — reach him and affect him, if possible with pity and terror … or, if not, at least to divert the tedium of his hours with a chuckle or an odd idea. But I am never trying to hide it from him in a private language, nor am I seeking the praise of other writers for ‘technique’ or other balderdash. I want the praise of the cash customer, given in cash because I’ve reached him — or I don’t want anything. Support for the arts — merde! A government-supported artist is an incompetent whore!”
“Stranger In A Strange Land” by Robert A. Heinlein

I’m no fan of government funding for the arts. Yes, art should be taught in schools, universities, academies, and the like. We need people who can create art.

But art should be judged based on its merit: Art can speak to us, show us something we overlook, confront us with questions, make us think and feel. All the human heights and lows, all the emotions, all the perspectives we can take.

Personally, I don’t care much what this art is or by whom it is done — as long as it achieves this effect, which is shown clearly when the public (or private supporters) are willing to pay for it. But supporting it via government money — Heinlein probably said it best via one of his characters in the quote at the beginning of this posting.

But people will never pay to view art that confronts them with negative emotions like fear or disgust, or to see art that really challenges them!

Really? Why do people go in horror movies or go on roller coasters? I think the issue here is that art that deserves the name — and again, I am speaking by the consequences, not by the kind of art — achieves this. If so-called artists claim that “nobody understands them” or that they work is “too avant-garde”, then perhaps they have to shelf it until the Zeitgeist is right. You are in good company, van Gogh had the same problem.

The reason why I bring up this topic again (see, for example, The Incompetent Whore or Self-proclaimed artists at the office) is an article I read about the comments David Gilmour made (for background see Teach what you love (unless it’s male writers?)).

Emer O’Toole wrote a piece in the Guardian titled: “Why snubbing books by women is not the same as snubbing motorbikes” in which she writes about her experiences making female writers a topic on her dating profile. She classified the reactions and at the lower end she sees:

the person who said “I like motorcycles, but I don’t expect you to like motorcycles – why do I have to like books by women?”

and replies with:

Answer: because motorcycles are not one half of the human race

Waow. That goes way beyond any government support for arts — at least they only want our money.

How can we envision the future here, that everyone gets a subscription to “the standard, regulated bookshelf” of 50% male and 50% female, 2% to 11% gay, 19% Chinese, 5% Bengali, 33% by Christian Authors and 22% by Islam, and so on?

I mean, what is the lesson here? That you should like books just because they represent part of the population? That gender (or any other category for which you are usually not responsible) gets you a place on everyone’s bookshelf — and worse, forces you in everyone’s hearts?

Isn’t that exactly the kind of sexism that should be avoided and fought? I’m all for equal opportunity, but for determining the outcome — esp. an outcome like ‘liking’ or ‘loving’ based on a quota? Shouldn’t the outcome be based on merit and fit to the reader?

If I write something, I want it to be read. Most writers want this, even if we do not make our writings public. I know that I will never become a full-time writer, I could not live on the works I am creating, and that’s okay. It’s a fulfilling hobby and a fate I share with most writers, male and female. Just look at the books available at book on demand sites like Lulu or Createspace — there are so many people who write, and who pursue it long enough to end up with something you can publish — on a book on demand site. Only a handful can become professional writers, most fail. And even those who succeed in making a living, often after continuous struggle and countless rejections, even those who succeed in getting paid for the thoughts and emotions they evoke, they do not speak to everyone. Take any author, even the best of the best, and you will people who say: “I can’t read this shit.”

That’s just deeply human — personal preference, emotions, thoughts, so deeply human and so personal. It makes us different from one another. Trying to enforce liking or love based on any category? I cannot see how any real writer would want to be successful based on a quota for a category he or she is not responsible for. And getting a quota won’t make bad writing any better, it won’t make people’s writing really be loved, it won’t improve the state of literature or any art.

It only makes the world a hellish place to live.

Categories: Gender, Improving your Creativity, Inspiration, Music & other Art, People, Realizing Creative Projects, Writing



4 Comments on The Incompetent Whore Strikes Again (Gilmour posting 2)

  1. I don’t know. Do you really think that someone at a university should only teach what they personally happen to love? That’s problematic for a number of reasons. I’m not in literature, but I feel a professional obligation to include perspectives that differ from my own in introductory courses (naturally, the situation is different in more specialized ones). The problem is compounded by the fact that it is Gilmour who denies quality is an issue: note that he says “it’s not got anything to do with whether or not they are great writers or not. It has only to do with my ability to teach them passionately and well.” I’m not sure if he is being disingenuous here or not, but the incompetence here appears to be Gilmour’s, and I think it is an honest enough question to ask whether someone who freely admits that they aren’t competent enough to teach a large part of the curriculum in a given field really belongs there. I agree that quotas for syllabi are ridiculous, but the implication behind Gilmour’s statement appears to be that quotas are needed at hiring in order to produce anything other than a really skewed curriculum (that is, one based on what individual lecturers happen to love).

  2. Daniel // 2013-09-28 at 18:01 //

    Good point, that’s the issue with personal preference vs. setting policy. As I understand the interview, the situation is that according to his agreement with the university he is free to lecture what he chooses to lecture. It appears to me that he is actually one of the few people who is not bound by any curriculum but what he himself prefers (note his comment about not having a PhD in the interview). I would agree if a whole department would say: “We’re just teaching what we like, without regard for the overall domain/field”, but what gets me here is that he has the right to teach what he chooses to teach and other people have a problem with that.

    So I don’t think the criticism is valid here, as he is not the usual university professor.

    As for the topic of the posting where you left the comment — I criticize that O’Toole states that people have to like something because “[women are] half of the human race”. It would be different if it were stated as “I want my partner to like what I like”, nothing wrong with that — would fall under personal preference. But saying that people have to like something just because of a numbers’ game — that’s pretty scary. She did not say reading about it, or knowing about it, she wanted them to like it. And with that I have a problem.

  3. I really like your blog for the discussions concerning technology and workflow, and I’m not really sure why I commented on this issue in the first place. But I still think you’re being a bit unfair to O’Toole and letting Gilmour off too easily. When read it context, it is pretty clear that O’Toole’s comment “because [women] are half of the human race” refers to her profile on the dating site where she says that “I only wanted to hear from people who read books by women.” I don’t see where she is playing a numbers game. Again, in the context of the original phrasing of the profile, the comment she was responding to — “why do I have to like books by women” — could just as easily be interpreted to mean that the person doesn’t see why he has to read books by women, and her response makes perfect sense in that regard. Gilmour comes pretty close to saying that he is unable to appreciate any book written by any woman simply because of her gender, which is probably just as idiotic as saying that you have to like a book because it was written by a woman. Again, at the level of personal preferences, it’s not that big of a deal, but it becomes problematic in the context of a class in which he simply excludes anything that doesn’t fit his personal preference, especially if the course is a required one. Sure, the university hired him to teach whatever he wants (and I would debate the wisdom of that decision), but, as I suggested above, hiring people to teach only their personal preferences will really opens the door to the numbers game, because it is very easy to see how this could become, “well, we have someone who only teaches heterosexual males,” so now we need to hire someone who only teaches women, or only teaches gays and lesbians, or only teaches Canadians, etc.

    I don’t all that much invested in this particular issue, so again I’m not sure why I responded. As I said, I find most of your posts quite helpful. I just happened to really disagree with you on this point, so I wanted to express the reason why.

  4. Daniel // 2013-09-29 at 11:04 //

    Hmm, if her intention were to find a suitable partner, no problem’s here. I can totally understand that. If I would met a woman (online or offline) who tells me she considers things I value deeply as a complete waste of time or offensive, I would not see any future there (or fun).

    But I got the impression that she was after more than just finding a partner — she brought her dating life into the discussion herself. I think it crossed that line with the assertion “Answer: because motorcycles are not one half of the human race” and the ‘pedagogical intent’ mentioned afterwards. She did not say: “Because I found that the best relationships I had were with people who read books by female writers or who say so on their profile” (totally valid). She also made that distinction very clear with the title “Why snubbing books by women is not the same as snubbing motorbikes” as a general statement. Might be a personal thing, but I don’t see “half of the human race” as a convincing argument to like something. I think that’s a very bad reason to like something.

    For me the Gilmour discussion is about personal preference which is not up to debate or vote (I’d like to refer to the work of Deanna Kuhn here). You like what you like, there are some things some people like that should not result in actions, but this does not invalidate the situation that the person likes to do it, that’s where impulse control comes in. I think she argues from a number’s game in the sense of “women are 1/2 of the population but continuously disregarded” (and I would not agree to that assertion either). Her writing strikes me too much as “I want to tell you what you need to like” and with that I have a problem. In dating, sure, totally, makes sense, but I think she goes beyond that.

    Like written, for me the gender of the author is completely irrelevant. I also find it strange that authors like Rowling are not mentioned in the debate, or Lindgren. But that are only a few of the problems of that debate.

    Anyway, thank you for the comments, I’m happy to continue the discussion by the way. I stumbled upon it and I see some problems with it, but discussing them brings the issues I have a problem with into sharper focus. It might be a rather peripheral topic for this blog, although I see a clear connection when it comes to dominating teaching and trying to influence not only public opinion but also emotions regarding art. Not to mention that it is interesting to see how much flak some people get and by whom and for what reason. But even in that twitter-storm are a few different perspectives, more sane, in my opinion. For example the commentary by Margaret Wente.

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