Monday, January 31, 2011

Does the Art excuse the Artist?

There was a hypothetical question my best friend and I argued while we were still getting our degrees in Art History: If a building were on fire and you had a choice between saving a Rembrandt and saving a cat, which would you choose?

Okay, besides the fact that those stupid hypothetical questions are always too simplistic, and besides the (also) fact that my best friend HATED cats so the question was more whether she would throw a cat into the fire...

I'd save anything alive before I'd save a painting. A pointsettia. Anything living is more important than art. It was her opinion that Art was superior to Life. And so the argument would begin.

Certain 'great' artists were morally reprehensible human beings. Surprised? No, I didn't think so. Matisse, for instance, who painted the famous "Dance of Life" impregnated his wife repeatedly and then gave his children to an orphanage. They were an impediment to his lifestyle, you see. Keep in mind, orphanages were a lot worse then than they are now.

Kind of ruins his art for me.

The same goes with authors. I loved Dean Koontz for many years. His descriptive passages are vivid and exciting. I could read them over and over. Sadly, he is reported to have said many disparaging things about Asian people. The man is a bigot! Who knew. It has spoiled my enjoyment of his skill. Sadly.

Now, my friend's argument was that all people are wicked and that their art redeems them on some level. She has a point, right? My question is, where do you draw the line? CAN you draw a line (I'd say, 'no') For instance, how can I read books written by mysoginists, given that I've spent most of my life fighting for women's rights? Or how can I read books written by men who subsequently supported Hitler?

Does it ruin books (or other art) for you if you know that the person who created it was an asswipe? Does it matter, or not?


  1. When I was a kid I used to dance around to Gary Glitter records when they came on the radio. Now even the thought of that leaves me cold. Hearing one of his records now would make me feel physically ill, I think. Not that they are ever played on the radio any more, at least not in the UK.

  2. I cannot watch movies with Tom Cruise or Mel Gibson in them...

  3. Jenre, I had to look up Gary Glitter on Wikipedia. Ew. How sad for everyone that enjoyed his music. See, that's how I feel about some artists as well.

    Chris, I never liked either actor. Though "Mad Max" was kind of awesome.

    I guess I'm not alone, then. I find out something about an artist that completely wrecks the pleasure I used to find in their work. It's too bad.

    Without libeling anyone online, a super star of civil rights is fairly well known in his country for practically forcing the young women around him to have sex with him, using his prestige and almost sainthood as leverage. Of course, he's married. I would never have believed it but a friend of mine worked for him and came running home horrified.

    I can't even read stories about him without feeling this huge sorrow in my chest, of total betrayal. I have the same problem with writers. Somehow I expect them to be tolerant and fair minded.

    Crazy, huh?

  4. I don't think it's crazy. There are definitely authors I won't read due to bad behavior - some of it's relatively smallscale reader bullying on GoodReads, but some of it's largescale WTFery... I can't picture myself ever reading the Anita Blake series again, for example...

  5. I always wondered how much Josh Whedon culled from the Anita Blake books. Did Hamilton do something awful or did her characters? I don't follow a lot of kerfluffles. Not because I'm above it all but because I don't always have time.

    But I've seen an author I always admired behaving badly and it's ruined the books for me. It makes me sad.

  6. Sort of both. LKH started to believe her own press and right around Blue Moon, the readability deteriorated. They're totally MarySues at this point. :(

  7. That's so simple and so true. Yes.

    Heh, my veri "word" is writizer. Something related to writing... but what, exactly? Hmm.

  8. Writizer? Okay, I've thought about it and can't quite parse what it means.

  9. I KNOW! It just seems like it should mean something, but I can't come up with a good definition for it.

  10. That's a hard question. No one gets thru life without making mistakes....It all depends on the nature of their "mistake".
    If I really enjoy their art however, be it a writer or actor or artist, I would probably still purchase their work.

    I guess that is why I like actors to remain somewhat of a mystery, sometimes when they open their mouths it ruins everything.

  11. LOL case in point, Tom Cruise. After that Oprah interview I could never see one of his movies without imagining him wigging out and jumping up and down on the furniture. Too bad.