Art is a thing, artists are a different thing.

Today on Facebook a writer wondered if she should in good conscience continue to teach a story by Sherman Alexie. I have been thinking about category mistakes. The writer found value in the story before she learned about the author’s actions in the world. When experiencing art, we need to test the art against our hearts, not the person. When we are naming crimes and acts of coercion, we are naming crimes and acts of coercion. People who do very shitty things to women and others in their power also make art that is larger and more complex than would seem possible, given their personalities and histories. These people generally have worked hard at craft. They have experimented to create lies that touch us. That mystery is partly what we enter art to contemplate. I do not want a world of artists whose actions need to pass a morality test or a criminal test. Very humane and decent people are hopelessly drab and inept artists. When I write stories, I purposely create narrators who are funnier, more open to the world, kinder, and less solipsistic, hungry, and larcenous than I am. If I wrote everything as me, it would all be “Notes from Underground” revisited. The songs you want to hear are composed of artifice, smoke and mirrors, tricks.

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