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Art on Demand

Walking the fine line between fandom and expecting artists to give you what you want.

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It's been six years since the release of the last novel in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Winds of Winter, the hotly anticipated next installment of the bestselling fantasy series, still isn't done. Its TV adaptation that began in 2011, HBO's Game of Thrones, has not only caught up to the stories in the books, it has surpassed them. With the release of a new trailer for Season 7—which premieres next month—fans are reminded they still don't have a book. Every time author George R.R. Martin pokes his head up, he is harangued—whether in person or online—for not being chained to his desk, churning out the next volume.

But what does he owe anyone? He's living comfortably on the success of his art. Some artists take a long time to produce work that they're satisfied with. Martin is not a monkey, and we are not grinding an organ for him. He will finish the book on his own terms, and he is the only person he has to please. Like the toy repairman in Toy Story 2 said, "You can't rush art." Hell, why would you want to?

Thing is, you don't deserve anything more than what you've already paid for. Just because the series isn't finished doesn't make him indentured for the price of the previous books.

Martin's dilemma raises the question: What are consumers entitled to from artists? He isn't the only one subject to this act of cultural badgering. Author Patrick Rothfuss—who will be a guest at the next Salt Lake Comic Con in September—faces similar scrutiny. The second book of The Kingkiller Chronicle was released in 2011. Yet the best guess anyone has for the third book's release date is an exaggerated shrug. But Rothfuss' books are so good, I'm happy to wait.

It's not just fantasy novelists who are the subject of this phenomenon, either. In May, when Vanity Fair released a new batch of photos and information for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it was made apparent that Finn would not be following the path of the Jedi. Granted, anyone who saw The Force Awakens could have reasonably assumed that, yet there were still those holding out hope with their fan theories—and they immediately took to social media to harass The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson for his choice. Others complained to him about the lack of "classic" aliens in the shots. Some were bothered that Johnson hinted there would be no romantic arc in the new film, dashing their hopes of Rey and Kylo Ren falling in love.

Are these fans entitled to the opinion that something different should have been done? Yes. Should they feel comfortable harassing the director with their (in my view) misguided opinions? No.

There's another, more sinister side to these outbursts. When the trailer for the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery TV series was released, white supremacists and "men's rights activists" went apoplectic. By featuring two strong female leads who aren't white, the arguments went, Star Trek is contributing both to "white genocide" and the emasculation of men. Another group of fans was angry about the depictions of Klingons. Do the creators of Star Trek owe it to this small minority of tantrum-throwers to change anything? Absolutely not.

There are some instances where public expression of dissatisfaction can be good, though. In demanding more diversity and broader representation of race, ethnicity, sexuality and gender identity, fans can keep creators thinking about the way the culture is moving forward. Take a look at the whitewashing of this year's Ghost in the Shell movie. When it was announced that Scarlett Johansson would be playing the role of a Japanese character in an adaptation of a Japanese film, claims of erasure of Asian characters were not only fair, but necessary. This wasn't just random people crying on social media, either; journalists from dozens of websites and news organizations wrote editorials about the decision. Racism and whitewashing—whether in art or in reality—need to be called out.

Here's my personal rule of thumb: When it comes to issues of justice, err on the side of speaking out. When it comes to personal preferences in the art, keep that as a personal opinion, and temper your outrage. Art was never designed to give us what we want or expect; good art gives us what we need, even if we didn't know we needed it.

So, let artists like GRRM, Rothfuss and Johnson do their thing without being harassed. Our patience will be rewarded.

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