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The Duty of Artists To Speak Out Against Injustice

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#16 dirac


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Posted 08 April 2014 - 10:46 AM

I thought Tommasini was writing more along the line of “obligation to disagree openly with governments who happen to be the bogeymen du jour in U.S. media.”

Leaving aside the specific examples of Gergiev and Duhamel, I tend to think that nobody, famous or not, is obliged to be political beyond performing one’s civic duty as a voter. If American celebrities do speak out on an issue likely to alienate people who are disposed to buy tickets to see them (cf. the Dixie Chicks), then they get brownie points from me, depending on my opinion of their opinion. It would be risky to speak out for segregation in today’s environment – well, I hope it would be risky, anyway – but I’d not think highly of the proponent of such views regardless of the courage required to air them.

Prominent people living in more dangerous political environments have far more difficult choices to make (which has also been true to a lesser extent during certain periods in American life, such as the Red Scares). I don’t think it’s possible to make too many generalizations about the “duty” of the artist. Some artists may feel that call to duty and some of them become heroes, like Vaclav Havel. And one thing about heroes is that there aren’t too many, which is why we revere them.

#17 Helene



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Posted 08 April 2014 - 10:50 AM

That is true, but in this particular case Gergiev has a strong and direct relationship with Putin. Even though Gergiev and Netrebko are not world wide superstars of pop culture like Madonna, they are in a position to be heard by Putin because he has favored them.

And how likely is Gergiev to endanger the Mariinsky by criticizing Putin publicly? How long would he have Putin's ear if he did? Madonna's tour date could just as easily be filled in another country, were she to become unwelcome in Russia. Her stance was relatively cost-free.

#18 dirac


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Posted 08 April 2014 - 11:27 AM

To add to what Helene just said, Madonna doesn't need the money (unless she hasn't been investing wisely over the years) and gay men form a significant portion of her fan base. If she performed in Russia without saying anything about the new law, she would probably have received some pointed criticism from that fan base, with justice. I don't doubt she's perfectly sincere in her sentiments, but if anything she was erring on the side of caution, not taking a risky stand.

#19 sandik


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Posted 08 April 2014 - 12:15 PM

And one thing about heroes is that there aren’t too many, which is why we revere them.


Very true.

#20 DanielBenton


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Posted 08 April 2014 - 02:26 PM

I greatly appreciate all these comments, esp. Birdsall, for providing a lot of food for thought.

#21 Quiggin


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Posted 08 April 2014 - 04:11 PM

Reading about Shostakovich & Stalin and Pasternak & Stalin's famous phone call and reading about what various artists - Picasso, Matisse, Beckett, Bove  - did during the Resistance, it seems that when you "speak out" is not so rational. One day it all becomes too much and you act on some little thing – as Picasso did at great risk when he attended Chaim Soutine's and Max Jacob's funerals, along with only a few other souls.


Also of course the Ukraine and Venezuelan situations are not at all parallel. The United States' activities in South America long have been pretty much in our own self interest (and beyond: Kissinger giving Pinochet the thumbs up) - and about which the Times on its front page, let alone Arts section, frequently seems to get confused and befuddled about ... And is "free speech" in the US that "free" anymore? It seems to involve a lot of careful low level self-censorship.

#22 Birdsall


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Posted 08 April 2014 - 05:19 PM

I don't know what Gergiev's views are on the Ukraine or on the gay propaganda law, but there is always the possibility that he is okay with it all. I think we sometimes assume artists (due to being artists) automatically support gays, etc. Helene mentioned that he runs the risk of alienating Putin and damaging finances for the Mariinsky if he speaks out against what is happening in Russia. But let's say he is on the same page as Putin, well, he has worked hard at trying to get the Mariinsky Opera and orchestra loved in the West. He also could alienate the West and damage all his hard work. So, in a way, it seems like he is in a no-win situation. No matter what viewpoint he has and speaks his mind, he will lose something.


But I can't believe I am almost having sympathy for him. I tend to fall into the anti-Gergiev camp usually. I guess pigs can fly! 

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