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Sunday, March 17, 2019
As an Artist Do I Have the Right to Refuse my Work to Someone I Disagree With?
I cannot tell you how much this question has haunted me over the past few years.
Those who know me know that I am a man of many strong opinions, especially regarding extremists of any kind. My work often attacks head on the issue of extremism both here in the United States and abroad. I hold nothing against anyone who carries a different belief than I do. But I hold everything against those who would shove those beliefs down the throats of others.
With that said, when extremist christians such as photographers or cake makers claim that they have no obligation to be hired to shoot a gay wedding or make cake for a lesbian couple because it goes against their beliefs, I stand appalled. But I also have to consider what the situation would be like if the tables were turned and I was asked to photograph something that I did not believe in. I'd have a hard time knowing how to handle it.
It is a difficult situation for any of us who use our creativity for our livelihood. But there is one crucial point that I think people overlook in this issue. Its called a "business licence". In any community (at least in the United States) once you have a valid business licence you are now under a mandatory obligation to serve everyone without exception who wishes to purchase from you. I have no problem with a private entity who is not registered as a business who decides not to serve another person. That is there decision and I honor it even if it is against everything within me. But if you have that business licence then you have NO choice.
But what about the scores of creatives who are just individuals making things they love?
Most would just hope like hell that they are never placed in a situation where they have to make this kind of decision. But in this world the more we are known for our beliefs the more those beliefs are challenged.
Okay, so what about regulations? Should their be new laws in place to help us handle things like this? The christians would tell us "yes, we need laws to protect us!" But I can't see how new laws will do anything but make things more complex. No matter what, one side or the other will be pissed off. If laws are enacted that allow some of us to discriminate then where are we in the end? Eventually everyone is discriminating in some way against someone else.
Doesn't leave us much room for negotiation does it?
So how do I, the creative, resolve this moral dilemma?
Some make the argument that the best thing a creative person can do is to botch the job so badly that the particular client would never want to come near you again. If your a baker then spit in the cake and use alum instead of baking soda. If your a photographer then make every photo as blurry as you can. Meet extremism with extremism.
I council that this is absolutely the wrong method. The best method is to meet the most hateful with love and give them the best damned work that can be created, make it with all the love and care you can put into it. Why would I want to sabotage my own work? Isn't it better to maintain ones professional and personal morals? Doesn't the right claims that the 'godless' have no morals? Aren't we giving into the haters by becoming haters ourselves?
But there is also no reason to silently do the work and bite the bullet. My work may be done with love, but my voice can also be raised against the hate. I have no objections to shouting as loud as I can against extremism. In fact my own personal moral code insists that I do not let it "just pass" and move on. My code suggests that this is an opportunity to perhaps teach the haters something about love and acceptance of all even when you are hated back. What we miss when we hate, is the true opportunity to teach and change minds.
We as creatives are also teachers. We have an opportunity here that we are passing up if we just snarl at the haters and refuse to do any work for them. If we meet hate with hate we are just like them and I refuse to stoop to that level.
So if the time comes that I have to make a decision like this, regardless of whether I am creating with or without a business licence, I will do my best work, but I will also make it very publicly known how I feel about the extremists I am working for. As the christians say "hate the sin, not the sinner". I will speak out and I will make it known how odious their views might be and how it may hurt others.
Consider for a moment, if an extremist couple came to me and asked me to photograph their wedding. "Oh Grey, your the best photographer out there, please do our wedding." I could say "no way in hell". Or I could say, "I'd love to" and where my best gay pride shirt to the shoot. Hell I could die my hair like a rainbow if I wished. Unless that couple gave me a strict dress code, as long as I am not disrupting the wedding, I'll wear anything I please.
Another example, someone wants to commission me to create a specific work of art for them. This person hates muslims. So unless they specify in a contract to keep all muslim art out of the the commission, then whats to stop me from placing a muslim prayer on the backside of the art? Sure they may cover it over, but I absolutely guarantee that they will get the message.
The point is to "think" not just react to hate. You can do a great job with anything and still get your message across. It may seem childish to some, or silly, but is the alternative of saying "no" really going to get us anywhere?
The time has come to use logic in this battle, not hate. The time has come for us all to grow up.