Should artists be considered separately from their work?

Woody Allen received a lifetime achievement award at the recent Golden Globes Awards. Simultaneously, Mia Farrow, his ex, and one of his children, Ronan, accused him of sexually abusing Ronan when she was a small child. He is married to one of his adopted children.

Roman Polanski is a fugitive from the United States for abusing an underage girl. 

Bad behavior among artists may not be the rule, but it's not at all uncommon. Just think Mel Gibson and Alec Baldwin.

Should we separate them from their art and give them awards if their art is worthy or should we reserve the accolades entirely or at least until they are pushing up daisies?

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The more incredible the work, the more I tend to overlook the creator's personage. If Ludwig Von was a complete heel as a person, I don't really let it influence my enjoyment of his work. I figure the global good far outweighs the localized bad for this special group of people.

It's difficult to appreciate the pathetic emotion induced by Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony without knowing about Tchaikovsky's life, character and final days. Much the same with a lot of final books, music, art etc. by many dying artists.

I remember when MTV burst onto the cable systems in the 80's. Many of us felt the videos actually ruined our the scenes from our imaginations. The cheesy videos couldn't live up to our version. In a similar fashion knowing the plight of the creator is a double-edged sword. I prefer encountering a work, and then maybe years later finding out the details of its creation.

I'm too sexy for my shirt.

I suppose we all know Justin Bieber is a douche bag and also that his music is painful to listen to. I wonder if we should separate questionable people from questionable art. Or maybe we should all be Beliebers.

I know all about Poe's life and I have no appreciation of his work. I don't think anyone over the age of 14 should.

The history of art is full of guys (mostly guys) who were cruel, jealous, vindictive, vengeful, and who took advantage of others. Of course, many artists were taken advantage OF by people who were cruel, jealous, vindictive, and vengeful.

In other words, they were kind of a cross section of the rest of us.

I think it would be perfectly awesome if Roman Polanski flew back to the US and got an academy award delivered to his prison cell.  This is simply a question of reality, or, rather two completely unrelated questions about reality.  One: Are a person's artistic achievements deserving of recognition and preservation? Two: Did this person do something that we generally throw people in jail for?  I see no reason the answers to those questions should have anything to do with one another.  If someone has shed light on the human condition, created an artwork of significant value, it would be wrong and stupid to disregard it because of it's creator's flaws.  Conversely, it would be wrong and stupid to allow great artists to get away with things we generally regard as criminal just because of the value of their work. 

There are certainly grey areas here, notably the question of who gets to define artistic merit and criminality, and their relative weights against each other.  The Pussy Riot debacle in Russia is a particularly telling example, as is the transformation of Graffiti into a more-or-less respected art form.  The artist Ai We-We, who has spent time in Chinese prisons for other art-related offenses, drew attention to the question directly with one of his pieces, a series of photographs in which he is seen holding, then purposefully dropping and shattering, a very valuable Ming Dynasty vase.  The composer Alfred Schnittke was fond of doing the musical equivalent; writing or quoting a beautiful melody or figure which wouldn't be out of place in a classical symphony, then distorting it horribly.  A particularly succinct example is his 'arrangement' (read: 'derangement') of 'Stille Nacht'.  We're moving away from strictly 'criminal' activity with these examples, but I feel the point is very much the same; in certain cases, artistic expression can be a means of expressing discontent with the status quo, and the official historical narrative of the ruling class is the judge of which expressions are worthy and which are criminal. 

Speaking of clear distinctions between art and life, though, I think my position is the only logical one.  The media narrative today is that people like Woody Allen are somehow the exception to the rule, that his fucked-up family is some sort of anomaly.  While his situation might be a bit of an outlier, and probably magnified because of his place in the public eye, I think it's safe to say that most features of his personal life are not too uncommon. On top of this, I can personally attest to the idea that artists tend to have more than their share of neuroses, and that these personal problems are often intimately bound up with the quality and content of their work.  The classic examples from the music world are Beethoven, who was a complete prick, deeply misunderstood by his family, isolated by fame, and eventually struggled with deafness, and Tchaikovsky, who dealt rather poorly with his same-sex attraction.  Their personal problems were, of course, not the source of their genius, but I certainly infinitely prefer their music to that of the abhorrently well-adjusted Mendelssohn.  Genius seems to me to be a free-floating quality, which could happen upon anybody, but it hardly seems a coincidence that the geniuses that move people the most profoundly are the ones who knew a good deal about feeling shitty.  Our extreme proximity, in terms of both historical time and media exposure, to the world of film should not obscure this basic principle. 

If Polanski wasn't a famous director, he'd have been returned to the U.S. by now.

Fred Astaire was one of our culture's most gifted dancers on screen. He was also a terribly uninvolved father to his children. His skill set can still be appreciated nonetheless.

And why would we wait until their death to bestow accolades and honor? Their death should be irrelevant. 

I'm still rigidly convinced Nabokov was a pedophile and when I read his writing all I feel is gleeful admiration for brilliance.

What did Alec Baldwin do?


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