War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

more on that ethics thing

I hosted a discussion with other artists yesterday, Ethics and the Art of Witness. I spoke of the artist as confessor, activist, priest, teacher, seer, shaman, trickster. I said sometimes I think we comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, to borrow that old descriptor of the Padres.

my good and faithful friend Murray* who translates, edits, comments about my work through the night vision goggles of his Jesuit education, believes we artists are filters through whom reality is sieved and that we witness through our ethics. (mine having its roots in gospel of social justice).

yesterday I spoke of the ethical challenges I face daily as I wrestle with old-fashioned concepts as objectivity, subjectivity. when I am told so much, see, hear, even feel so much. the intimate. the fearful. the suffering. the joy. the bizarre. the terrifying. the hilarious. the politically incorrect. the very correct… how much do I use for my work? is it using or am I the conduit. the pipe. the tube as one of the young artists I recently met, describes us.

Erin, a photographer working with at risk youth believes we must “use” what we see/hear/feel. that it is a moral obligation.

then what about our intimate relationships? how can we write about those closest to us when they can’t write about us? how fair is this? can we in any way?

May Day, my fictional project, is one way I address this dilemma. everything in May Day has happened either to someone I’ve met, or to me. but in May Day I’ve jumbled up ages, sexes, rank, locations etc. for example, I am NOT the young dancer (that’s laughable to say the least), NEVER EVER had an affair with a married soldier though many believed from the writing that I had. (it made me laugh out loud. it made me think, I guess I got something right.) but with May Day I can explore the dislocation of the soldier, the dancer, psychological as well as physical. and May Day is really about longing and loss.

my good and faithful friend Diane* believes that as artists, our fluency, our ease with words or images or ? sometimes gives others the sense we are more empathic. that we have more insight. that we perhaps are able to articulate the suffering of others in such a way that the sufferers are grateful or find relief.

and in the times of money and power and the devalueance (I made that up) of our elders, perhaps the artist is turned to as the wise ones. (though most often artists are looked upon as decorators to be honest).

another good and faithful friend David* Pike teaches critical thinking. he has a framework for solving ethical challenges. IOC.


nice. simple. clear. practical.

I shall try this. when next I write.

through this discussion yesterday, and my preparation for it by reading, then speaking with the 2 D’s, I think the word that rang loudest for me and which I hope may be found in some of what I do, and that was David’s word


I hope, I sincerely hope through all of this, especially as I am nearing the end of this writing, that within, some mercy may be found.

*good and faithful = “oh sure I haven’t seen or heard from you in a year but I’m so happy to see you even for 1/2 hour. can we pick you up at the airport? your bedroom is ready!”

1 Comment (Closed)

Alex VanderWoude

I would not call you a “pipe” or “tube”, because you do not simply post your raw scribblings unedited. “Sieve”, as your friend Murray suggests, comes a lot closer. Your posts may sometimes be rough and unpolished, but at the very least you consider what effect posting the material will have on the people involved, and thus you pick and choose and sometimes discard or obscure or gloss over. This winnowing should not be considered censorship or dishonesty, but rather the intersection between artistic intuition about what is interesting and relevant, and plain old decency with regard to people’s feelings. The troops and their families who have let you in to their lives deserve this sort of consideration, and you recognize and honor that. In other words, you are making correct ethical choices.

Mar 31 2011 · 21:37

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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled more on that ethics thing. It was posted here on March 30, 2011.


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