Friday, August 15, 2014

The danger of stifling creativity

I wrote a small post recently called Thought Crimes and the Atheist Movement. In it I talked about the role people have who are offended by the creative efforts of others. I pissed off a few people who thought my photography projects that dealt with the homeless was something I should not do because I might offend the homeless (or others). I feel otherwise. My work has helped others and helped bring attention to the problem. If I had listened to critics, I would have never taken the photos. It's a horrible thought.

I recently watched a video by photographer Brenda Ann Kenneally and poet Susan B.A. Sommers-Willet. This multi-media project explores poverty in Troy, New York using photography, video and poetry. Take a moment and watch the video.

It is uncomfortable to watch. Poverty is ugly, although I find photos hard to view, I do so anyway and I am made better by the experience. The individual photos are even harder to look at, but they serve a purpose. The project, called Update Girls, has attacked a lot of criticism. If photographer Brenda Ann Kenneally had listened to her critics, this 10-year-long project would have never happened. 

Ms. Kenneally’s forceful images drew a lot of attention. More than eighteen thousand people shared the Slate article on Facebook and hundreds commented on Slate’s Facebook page. Another 387 commented on the original post. Tweets criticized the subjects and the photographer.

The comments were harsh. Many expressed outrage that Kayla would smoke while holding her baby. (This photograph, singled out with especially virulent criticism, has since been taken down at Ms. Kenneally’s request.) Others remarked that poor people couldn’t afford to waste their money on cigarettes, that the houses pictured were filthy and the occupants slovenly, and that the food visible in some shots was unhealthy. Commenters wondered how poor families had money to buy their children video games. There were accusations about welfare checks and snide remarks about contraception.

If she had listened to her critics, this important sociological work would have never been created. Why listen to critics? Why let them ruin your creative efforts? Why give them the power to derail individual creativity? I just don’t understand this type of thinking. I never will. 

Our creative efforts are our own private domain. If I listen to people who are offended by my work, I would never have written this blog. I would never have helped dozens of abused children and adults find justice. I would never have helped anyone out of a wrong-headed concern for Christians who might have been offended by being held responsible in some small way for their acts of hypocrisy.  My hate mail goes to the trash unread. I do the work I must do anyway. 

By the way - once small case, a young girl who was being abused by her pastor, made all ten years and 6000+ posts worth the effort. I was able to help the girl and her parents. I consider it one of my proudest moments and it is one of the reasons I’ve started to post again.