Here’s a conundrum: is it possible to divorce art from it’s creator?
It is universally acknowledged that great art be it in music or literature or movies transports you to a higher realm. Personal though the experience may be (and subjective too), truly sublime art cannot fail to move the observer. Yet, at what point does the creator’s life, personality or debaucheries start to influence how you view their creation?
From Wagner’s anti-Semitism to Dickens’ neglect of his own brood to Hemingway’s fractured family to more lately, Woody Allen’s decidedly creepy personal life, Michael Jackson’s (unproven) abuse claims to Rolf Harris’ proven ones- all have been artists/artistes par excellence.
Is it possible then to delineate one from the other?
I, for one, cannot forget that shortly after the child abuse allegations had first surfaced against Michael Jackson, he performed the “Earth Song” with pre pubescent children, with him dressed as Christ, in a ludicrous attempt to varnish his rapidly cracking facade. Jarvis Cocker of Pulp fame, famously wrecked that performance by storming the stage. Rightly so. Yet, there is no denying the fact that Jackson produced and sang some amazing tracks that have withstood the test of time.
Similarly with Allen’s earlier films, and some of his later ones too, it’s impossible to dismiss his genius, his quirky Manhattan world view, his unconventional protagonists. Yet one’s loathing of the man colours any subsequent viewings of his movies.
And what of Roman Polanski? Can one ignore that he raped a 13 year old just because he made wonderful films like “The Pianist” or “Chinatown”?
There is no black and white here. Talent can reside in the humblest, the meanest, the most perverse, just as it can within the noblest, the purest, the most enlightened. As an audience to it, we must judge them separately from one another. I can love a piece of art by Picasso, while not necessarily caring for the man himself (a serial adulterer and psychological bully). I can be transported by “The Ride of the Valkyries” by Wagner, while denouncing his anti- Semitic views.
Nowhere in the mythical Artists handbook is there a mention of a code of conduct. Yes, I would love all my artists to be wonderful, warm, caring, altruistic, loyal human beings. How naive that would be. Just as our world is an imperfect one, so are we.