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Jewish World Review April 6, 2001 / 13 Nissan, 5761

Stanley Crouch

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The problem with
art is artists


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- WEDNESDAY, at least one controversy on the arts, this one about murderers, was brought to a conclusion when New York Gov. George Pataki ordered the work of Arthur Shawcross to be boxed up and sent packing from the 35th Corrections on Canvas show, surely a gathering of work as remarkable as its title.

Another controversy on the arts, this one about race, may be brought to a conclusion soon in Atlanta when the estate of Margaret Mitchell finds out whether it has been successful in its suit against a takeoff on "Gone With the Wind," this one written from the point of view of the slaves."The Wind Done Gone," by Alice Randall, a Negro, is set in the world of Mitchell's characters and includes a slave who is a half-sister of Scarlett O'Hara. Today, the half-sister would check two boxes in the census.

In the Shawcross case, the real-life Hannibal the Cannibal discovered that he is a painter, and our correctional system was going to allow him to profit from his work.

Heat came from some of the families still mourning women who paid the ultimate cost for working in what is not only the world's oldest profession, but also one of the most dangerous.

We know so little, finally, about the human soul that we should not be surprised if a terrible murderer has artistic talent, whether crude or brilliant.

But if murderers who, as we know, have taken everything from their victims are allowed to paint and to exhibit, they should not be able to earn anything. If the prisoner doesn't like it, what is he or she going to do get mad enough to kill somebody?

The Atlanta case, likewise, comes down to who should get what.

"The Wind Done Gone" justified itself as no more than a race hustle, from my point of view. I say that because one would not have to use a derivative title or characters from another novel to make a point about slavery having been a much more terrible institution than the one depicted by Margaret Mitchell.

In a written statement, Randall defends her novel, stating: "Once upon a time in America, African-Americans were forbidden by law to learn to read and write. It saddens me and breaks my heart [that] there are those who would try to set up obstacles for a black woman to tell her story, and the story of her people, with words in writing."

But the estate of Margaret Mitchell is not setting up obstacles to this inarticulate and self-righteous woman. The estate only wants to make sure that it gets a cut if such a book comes out.

There's often lots of whining and crying about real and unreal racial exploitation. One would imagine that if the copyright laws bent under the weight of this kind of special pleading, we would be right back in the middle of one kind of law for whites and one kind of law for blacks.

My feeling about the matter is quite simple. Drop the race talk.


JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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