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Art V. Artist

Monday, 24 February, 2014

Illustration by Anasha Flintoff

At the Golden Globes this year, one of the highlights (or lowlights, depending on how you look at it) was the presentation of the Cecil B. De Mille award—given for  “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment”—to Woody Allen. As the tribute video played out, viewers shifted in their seats at what seemed like a little too much focus on his 1979 film Manhattan, in which Allen’s character has an illicit relationship with an underage lover. The applause from his peers could hardly be touted as enthusiastic.

Deciding whether or not to support creative types who are A-grade douchebags in real life is a serious dilemma. In buying into their art, are we ultimately endorsing their personal moral standards (or lack thereof)?

Consider this question: should we continue to listen to Chris Brown after his abhorrent beating of Rihanna? While it’s hard to believe that many people saw Chris’s damaged status in the music industry as any great loss, I know that his song ‘Yeah 3x’ covered quite a lot of ground in my Most Played list for a while. That’s a lot of moral guilt right there.

The list goes on. If you’re not still reeling from Mel Gibson’s rampant anti-Semitism or Alec Baldwin’s homophobia, perhaps rapper Tyler, the Creator’s blatant misogyny is more your style. And don’t think that lying in the foetal position surrounded by your Old Hollywood DVD collection will save you, either, because you’ll soon uncover the circulating controversies of glamorously censored yesteryear. When I learned that gentle Bing Crosby was most likely as cold-hearted a father as his equally PR-primped contemporaries, I didn’t know who else to turn to. Walt Disney, a lover of children as long as they weren’t black? Paul and John, able to put the most romantic contemplations to music by day while maintaining a busy extramarital schedule by night?

In negotiating the celebrity minefield, the obvious question to ask yourself is where exactly you think a line should be drawn. Should you go so far as to completely boycott an artist based on morality, or is it okay to express appreciation so long as there isn’t any monetary support involved? When entire groups of people could be affected negatively by the ideas perpetuated by an individual (Miley Cyrus and black appropriation, anyone?) you can start to feel like any level of support should be avoided.

The next question to ask yourself is how much the artist’s actions have affected you. If the thought of paying to watch a Polanski film makes you sick, then you clearly feel strongly enough to eliminate that slice of art from your life. However, if you’re at the point where you’re boycotting the films of every person who booed Marlon Brando’s 1973 refusal of his Oscar in protest of Native American civil rights issues, then maybe you’ve gone a bit too far.

In the end, I think that it comes down to our worldwide celebrity worship culture. We need to part with this unhealthy celebrity obsession, and simply scale everything back to our own experience of whatever product we’re consuming. While contextualising a creative work may be fascinating and sometimes downright fun for the trivia nerd within, it is important to experience the art itself first and foremost.

Of course, it is hard to enjoy a film, book or album in the same way after learning it may have been conceived out of hatred or perversion. Ultimately though, even if you admire their work, you are not forced to agree with everything an artist stands for. Artists are human beings, and human beings can always be counted on to disappoint us at some point.

So, even if the recent Woody Allen tribute at the Golden Globes left a bitter taste in your mouth, it’s okay to appreciate the fact that, as far as filmmaking goes, the guy is a creative genius. Personally, I may even learn to separate Polanski’s sordid past from his status as one of the greatest directors. In due time.

But Tyler, the Creator? Come on guys, you gotta be kidding me.