On Friday’s Art Thread there was an interesting discussion about whether the art should be judged with the artist in mind…
Wagner the man was a rat bastard in many ways but the mother could compose.
Posted by: Anonosaurus Wrecks, Tyrannosaur Wrangler
And I responded: And that brings up the larger question of whether is is internally consistent to enjoy the works of those whose political philosophy and behavior is anathema to what we believe.
And we were off!
I like to think in the same terms that I try to when it comes to authors, essayists, entertainers, pundits and commentators. That is there is a balance between the person and the product. If a Michael Moore speaks a truth, it can be accepted as truth and appreciated outside the context of Michael Moore’s total body of work, yet the total body of work affects my willingness to look for the occasional nugget of truth.
A single Tom Cruise movie might be enjoyable, but after a while the constant jaw-clenching facial expressions make it about Tom Cruise, not the storytelling, and it becomes less enjoyable.
If an artist or entertainer isn’t wearing their politics on their sleeve and doesn’t have a track record of supporting vile politics, go ahead and enjoy the work. But if the man’s overall body of work is vile, reject the man by rejecting his art.
We are confronted by this in popular culture to an insane extent. Seemingly every dancing monkey and ventriloquist’s dummy in Hollywood and the music industry feels compelled to plague us with his political philosophy, moronic and inconsistent and dismissive of most Americans though most of them are.
And dipping our toes into the history of some of the greatest artists and writers and composers can leave one with a very bad taste in one’s mouth.
For example, I love Hemingway’s writing, in particular his short works. But I am also aware that the man was a horrid friend, a worse parent, and had political tastes that supposedly included drinking daiquiris while observing Che Guevara murdering his political enemies. Whether that is true is beside the point. The man was a prick.
Fast forward a few generations and we arrive at Steven King, whose early works were quite good as light reads (though not on par with Hemingway, except perhaps in his own mind), but the man hates us! His vitriolic spewings about anyone to the right of George McGovern makes it clear that he wants no part of vast swaths of America, except when they buy his books.
The list goes on and on. Serious art, fluffy movies, popular music…it’s all filled with politically charged blather from the so-called “artists.” Luckily it is easy to ignore most of it, since most of it is crap. But the filter of time has preserved some fine work by some not-so-fine people, and that is a more difficult and interesting dilemma.