July 20, 2010

Judging art via the artist

“What are your religious beliefs?” I’ve gotten this question a few times now from a small number of people who’ve played the Telepath RPG: Servants of God demo. Some of them are just curious fans looking for hints as to the direction the game is going. Others have skin in the game, so to speak–people with definite, already-formed ideas about religion and the existence of God who are trying to decide ahead of time if they’re going to like what I have to say with TSoG.

So far, I’ve given them all the same answer: “I’m not saying.”

Telling fans my personal religious beliefs would undermine much of the point of playing TSoG–it would color the way that people experience the game. People would be tempted to substitute what I personally believe for the things that the game actually presents the player. I don’t want that.

I don’t want players mentally categorizing my game before they’ve played it, based on what I think. The game must speak for itself. That’s the job of an artist. If I’ve done my work correctly, the player should be able to discern the message of TSoG without reference to anything I’ve said or done outside the game.

Aside from which, we should not rush to judge a work before we have experienced it, based solely on whether our beliefs are similar to the author’s. Atheists can appreciate the works of Michelangelo; Baptists can appreciateĀ  the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley; objectivists can enjoy playing Bioshock. And positively anyone can enjoy Telepath RPG: Servants of God.

  • Swordsmanjax

    Dude, I'm a Christian, but I have no problem in saying that whatever your religious beliefs are, this game rocks! Hope to see more fun coming in the future.

  • Abahaty

    you are my jesusninja!

  • im2smart4u

    I get what you are saying. Like Shakespear's works, we don't know exactly what the author's interpretation of his works are. Without knowing the author's view, we can are free to make our own interpretation. Where one might interpet the game as the dangers of a theocrasy, another may see how fragile democracy is.

  • Sigma83

    It is the same question as asking if you'll read Orson Scott Card because he's antisemitic. Hard to say.

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  • Mungrul

    I've been asking myself about this a lot recently, as I've been re-reading a lot of R E Howard and H P Lovecraft.
    Howard was “a product of his time”, and so some degree of racism in his personality was inevitable, but this doesn't stop his works being fantastic examples of the various genres he wrote in.

    Lovecraft was even more racist than Howard, and some parts of “Herbert West: Re-animator” and “The Horror at Red Hook” are quite uncomfortable to read, but again, this doesn't detract from the author's aver-arching achievements.

    To a lesser extent, my discovery that Chuck Palahniuk is gay also brought this question to mind, to be soundly rebuffed by the decision that his sexuality doesn't matter. The man writes fantastic, confrontational fiction. Who he decides to sleep with is really of no consequence when regarding his art.

    It's also interesting that having read a lot of Dostoevky's work before reading about him left me uninformed as to his devoted Christianity. Characters such as Alyosha kind of tipped me off, but there are also parts of his stories that are incredibly critical of organised religion.

    In short, I'm in agreement; regard the art, not the artist.

  • Skye

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. I identify myself as a Pantheist, which certain Christians (typically those who believe they are in a position of power) love to challenge, test and/or denigrate. Today yet another tedious question was conveyed back to me through a member of the church a local church by a visiting Pastor: “When you see a painting by Monet, is that Monet or his work?”

    My initial response was a question: “What makes you imagine I will answer your probing question which is attempting to nitpick about whether I am a Panentheist, incorrectly identifying myself as Pantheist?” My true feeling is one based on logic (I am a Scientific Pantheist): I will say “both Monet AND his work.” Without the Artist, the painting (work) would not exist. And of course, Scientific Pantheists are Pagans, by default ~ but in the archaic sense of the word: there is reverence for the planet we live on and for all sentient lifeforms, as well as all else in the Universe.

    But no, I do not look at a tree and say: “Ah. There is God and one of his works. Without this deity, there would be no tree.” I do not look at a human and say: “There is God, etc.” I don't require a special building that I enter one day of the week to become a better person. It is my belief that we each are our own potential masterpiece and so it's necessary to take responsibility for our own actions and act with compassionate courage, rather than hiding behind the notion that Jesus' death absolves us from suffering the consequences of wrongdoing (therefore, we don't need to learn from our mistakes and continue to evolve). I perceive order and intelligence everywhere.

    What I suspect is lurking behind this fellow's question of me is having knowledge of the personal beliefs and private life/lifestyle choices of an Artist, as an Art Historian would. IMO, this is a dangerously prejudicial approach which certainly will create a “filter of opinion” through which any of Monet's work will be assessed. Most Artists want their work to be seen through clear and unbiased eyes…innocently (which really does create an argument against the concept of The Artist's Statement. If the viewer, ignorant of the Artist's private life and the contents therein, honestly finds the work beautiful, repulsive, disinteresting, et cetera, this is an opinion arrived at strictly through the evidence of their senses.

    It is of no importance whether Monet was a drunk, a derelict, a wealthy fop, a party animal or tea-sipping recluse who suffered from tuberculosis, had a day job milking goats, was a devout Catholic or complete Atheist. It matters only that Monet existed and put his creative idea into action. There are many creative geniuses with wonderful ideas who never put forth the necessary effort to express those ideas in any tangible form.

    Thus, without Monet, there would be no work by him on view. And Monet did invest the effort to paint what he envisioned. The painting might suggest a gentleness and optimism that manifested only in his 'works'. So of course, the painting does not reveal what sort of man he was ~ often, this is best left to the imagination. The painting will most accurately reflect the frame of mind Monet was in while painting.

    And so, people who are asking personal and private questions of the creator of TSoG, please respect the privacy of the Artist. You will derive a great deal more enjoyment by playing without any preconceived notions of the creator's intent or the 'probable outcome'…which is likely to differ based upon how you play the game. The Artist created TSoG and it that is the result of a lot of effort building an idea into tangible form. Appreciate and admire the game without prejudice, please.

  • I understand your point but I also think that perceptions surrounding the artwork and the way it’s presented can create an interesting experience as well. If this is partly in relation to the orson scott card thing I think the primary concern is how much he funds organisations people disagree with out of his pocket.