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Apr 01

Could Hitler Have Funded His Art With Kickstarter?

Painting of roses in a vase by Hitler

Hitler painted roses. Or, Hitler-painted roses.

A few nights ago on Twitter, the musician Amanda Palmer asked for a show of tweets: who would pitch in five dollars for a new Morrissey all-digital album on Kickstarter? (She was asking preparatory to writing him a letter to discuss the possibility.) Ah, such a massive flurry of tweets ensued that for a while, that was all I could see on my feed. Because Morrissey is considered by some to be an unsavory character, surrounded by allegations of racism (maybe inaccurate) and general jackassery (probably more accurate, if subjective).

Though I have never explored Morrissey’s work and am thus extremely unlikely to pitch into a Kickstarter for a new Morrissey album, I nonetheless became involved in the lively conversation that ensued about whether or not to support someone whose art you enjoy but whom you believe to be morally or ethically repugnant. This has been a conversation that’s gone on throughout history, I suspect, but Kickstarter changes the game a bit.

I’ll get back to the Kickstarter thing in a bit, but right now I just want to examine how we draw that line between supporting or not supporting a particular artist.

During the Morrissey kerfuffle, more than one Twitter user said something along the lines of “the artist is separate from the art,” regardless of the format. If that’s the viewpoint you take, then this discussion is moot. It really doesn’t matter WHAT the artist does because you’ll support the art regardless. The other side of that coin, of course, is that you won’t consider supporting any artist who doesn’t completely subscribe to your worldview, which in practical terms means your walls, bookshelves, and iPod will be pretty much barren, seeing as the world contains about 7 billion distinct viewpoints.

I think most of us are probably somewhere in the middle. For me, the boundaries aren’t clearly defined, but they are there. Is the artist alive or dead? Because generally, if he’s dead, there’s no worry about “enabling.” What form does the support come in? Example: musicians don’t really make a lot from the purchase of studio albums; they tend to get most of their money from touring. So attending a concert might feel more problematic than downloading the album. Finally, and most big-ly, how egregious is the harm this person has done? Hitler is dead and can no longer benefit from—well, from anything, but there is no way that I would ever own or display any of his paintings (assuming that I liked them, which I don’t; they seem soulless to me). What he destroyed far outweighs any value he added to the world.

And I think all that gets amplified a bit with Kickstarter. Because it IS so much more personal than the studio album process. With a studio album, fans have no input, except after the fact. The album is announced, created, released, and you either buy it or don’t. There are multiple layers between the artist and the rest of us. The process, though perhaps not the music, is impersonal. With an album funded by a Kickstarter campaign, however, the fans are the producers. They don’t just buy the music after the fact, they directly make it happen. There is no middleman. It’s personal; watch this very excellent TED talk to get an idea of how personal it can be. I think that makes it more difficult to dismiss misgivings about the artist as a person.

I LOVE Kickstarter. I think it’s an amazing way to get a project funded. But I also think that when it comes to expectations of the artist, it—and other crowdfunding platforms—could change the way artists and fans relate to each other in multiple ways, not all of them universally positive.

6 comments

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  1. amanda palmer

    if hitler had been able to Kickstarter his art career – would he have invaded Poland?
    the mind is boggled.

    1. Evelyn Stice

      Yes indeed. In retrospect, not accepting him to art school was probably a mistake.

  2. Shasta

    I am typing this message for one reason only – to have a comment right under Amanda Palmer’s.

    1. Evelyn Stice

      Yeah, my blog just got 1000 times more awesome. At least for today.

  3. Shasta

    And I love Morrissey, by the way.

    1. Evelyn Stice

      Wait, then. You can’t just drop that and leave. So, $5 to the imaginary/potential Morrissey digital-only Kickstarter or no?

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