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Monday, 21 July 2014

Art Versus the Artist



Rolf Harris recently got sentenced over a string of sexual offences that spanned pretty much his whole career. He'll be going to jail for around five years, his Order of the British Empire and Officer of Australia status has been revoked and he's been removed from the ARIA Hall of fame and the Fellowship of BAFTA.

Now those last two interested me. Harris was a very sick man who deserved to go to jail. But what bearing does it have on his status as an artist? Do his evil ways in any way cancel out his talent as an artist? I can guarantee you that as long as you and I are alive, songs like Jake the Peg and Tie Me Kangaroo Down will never be played without jeers from whoever's in the room. Harris won't even be remembered as an artist any more. He'll just be the creep we used to let entertain our kids.

The same can be said of Woody Allen. I know plenty of people who baulk at the sound of his name. This is a conversation I've had with a person in the past...
'Urgh, Woody Allen's a creep.'
'Yeah I know. Manhattan's a good movie though...'
'What? No, that's disgusting!'
'Why?'
'Because he married his step-daughter!'

So the question comes up again - can the artist be separated from their art? Allen cheated on the girl he was dating with her adopted daughter and eventually married her. Does that suddenly make his movies awful? In the case above (and the majority of other cases), I think that a person believes that liking the artist's work in some way means that they approve of the artist's actions. And maybe that's true. But look at it this way - take the greatest movies of all time: Star Wars. The Godfather. Titanic. What if it turned out that James Cameron was a sex offender? Would all of Titanic's Oscars be taken away? Would the world suddenly decide that it wasn't the best film of the year? Wasn't the best directed? Didn't have the best costumes?

You might be reading this screaming "YES!!! ISN'T IT OBVIOUS? THEY DON'T DESERVE TO BE REWARDED FOR THAT!!!" Well, that's up to you. There's of course no right or wrong here. I choose to view a person's art separately from who that person is.

But wait, let's throw a spanner in the works. Not long ago I was introduced to the song Chandelier, by Sia. It was during her performance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, where she had her back to the cameras and a girl recreated the interpretive dance from the music video. I thought it was an okay song... But then I heard about Sia's addiction to alcohol and painkillers. I heard about how the scars she's developed from her party lifestyle has left her not wanting to show her face to the public. I read the lyrics of the song and discovered how it was about the shame she felt after a night of drinking. In my eyes, the song became much, much better.

So how can I say that artist and art are separate? If Sia's lifestyle has influenced my opinion of her song so much, how can I overlook Woody Allen's perceived transgressions and enjoy a film like Midnight in Paris?

Maybe it's that these artists' dark sides don't actually appear in the work. But there's no way to be sure of that. Who knows what Rolf Harris was really thinking about when he wrote the song Two Little Boys. I think it's still a beautiful song, but one could understand a person disagreeing.

Probably the most incriminating thing for me is that I like the song Blurred Lines. Of course I don't agree with the message - I think Robin Thicke deserved his divorce. I just think it sounds bloody good. Is that allowed? Are you allowed to like the song and not like the video clip? I've had conversations with people who assert that no, you can't just enjoy one or the other. The clip is tied so closely to the song that to like the song is to condone the rest of it.

I'd appreciate your input in the comments section. Is it okay to laugh at Mike Tyson's movie cameos or buy Adolf Hitler's paintings? What other examples are there? Am I being hypocritical by ignoring the bad and taking in the good?  When is it okay and not okay to separate art from the artist? Can it even be done?

9 comments:

  1. Liking Woody Allen films is definitely OK, and his relationship with his girlfriend's daughter ended in marriage, so you can't accuse him of using her. Likewise, Roman Polanksi continued win acclaim as a director after he had sex with a 13-year-old girl. But Rolf Harris was always a silly lightweight character, so his crimes are a good excuse for everyone to rubbish his work. You're probably to young to remember a weird panting thing he used to do - check out the following You Tube link if you dare:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wK4DNBClxpI

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    1. Wow, that creeped me out. Some people still get creeped out by Woody Allen, but I'm impressed with how many people have told me there was nothing actually morally wrong with it since writing this.

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  2. Mikey, this is one of my favourite pieces you've done to date . . . you're really developing as a writer and it was so good to read something that gave me something to think about. You go girl! S x

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    1. Haha thanks S ;) I'm glad I managed to pull it off :P

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  3. I couldn't listen to another John Mayer song after he dissed women and was a total jerk, because I failed to be convinced that he was genuine about the things he sang about, songs he wrote. They just didn't ring true or sincere any more and so I didn't enjoy them as much. I think it really depends on the art medium - a song is very personal, very emotive and the character of the person who sang or wrote it seems to be important. I think it also depends on the 'crime' the artist committed. Rolf Harris was just shameful and everything is tainted. Woody Allen fell in love with the wrong person. Immoral to some, but not to others. Meh.

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    1. That seems pretty decent. But what if the crime has nothing to do with the song? Does that make a difference?

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  4. Seems like if a movie or a song is good, it is good, regardless of how bad of a person created it. However, if these people had been exposed BEFORE their movies or songs or art became hits, people probably wouldn't have liked them to begin with. They portrayed themselves to the public as being people they really weren't, so once the truth comes out, there is a public backlash. I think Robin Thicke's handlers knew he had a good song, and told him if he gave it nasty lyrics and made a really offensive music video it would make him famous... but if he was a serial killer or a rapist, no one would have played it or talked about it... I mean Western society has not sunk that far yet lol.

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    1. Yeah you're right. The meaning and video of Thicke's song contributed to its popularity, whether people like it or not. I bet there are people whose sales would go up if it turned out they were a serial killer. Jim Belushi for example.

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