Saturday, November 4, 2017

Can art be dissociated from the artist?

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
"The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he dd not exist" - I read that sentence right before entering the movie theater to watch The Usual Suspects, and obviously despite being warned, I got played like anyone else. To say that "Verbal" was Keyser Soze is at this stage, not even revealing a spoiler so much Kevin Spacey's performance in the movie remains a landmark in terms of duality of please-spare-that-innocent-man-the-torture-you-are-subjecting-him-to and the devious, cunning, crippled beast that the whole world fears (that would be Satan in case you did not get it).
But today within revelations that Spacey was making the set of House Of Cards, the netflix sensation that he was starring and producing, a "toxic place" where apparently there was too much sexual predatory behavior to mention and in the wake of Harvey Weinstein scandal where an incredible amount of women surfaced with allegations of sexual misconduct (ranging from indecent propositions to full outright rape accusations) and in a place where now - considered a watershed moment in the history of feminism - many women are coming out to accuse powerful men of all the acts they managed to get away with by means of intimidation, there is a bigger question that lurks in the background: Can we separate the art from the artist?
I wish there was an easy answer. Michael Jackson and repeated accusations of pederasty, James Dean and his alleged homosexuality, Kim Kardashian and the sex tape (heck, any celebrity with the sex tape), Mozart and his love for scatology, Wagner and his political views, Rudyard Kipling and his racism, and the list goes on.
Time is sometimes kind to these artists, it makes their work transcend their views, ideas, ideals or lifestyle. At other times labels remain associated with them.Obviously, it is a raging debate, the American society loves nothing more than a comeback (Robert Downey Jr. anyone?), but to the world at large springing back from a scandal can be more tricky.
However, I am digressing. "Revenons a nos moutons", can art be appreciated regardless of its creator? Can one look at a Terry Richardson photo without thinking of the things he allegedly coerced models to do, or perhaps at the work of fashion genius John Galliano after his epic fall from grace at the house of Dior, and so on and so forth? Galliano's redemption comes from his newly respected work at Maison Margiela where critics and the public at large admire his new creations for the house proving this by increasing sales drastically.
Is art an "objective" artistic merit? If this is the case, then how come there is ugly beauty hanging in the museums (naive art as one example) or that a work by Jean-Michel Basquiat fetched - literally - a record sum at an auction house. That Basquiat died from a heroin overdose only makes him even more edgy. After all, the saying goes "there is nothing hotter than a talented young artist, than a talented dead young artist".
Micheal Hutchence former lead singer of INXS died from accidental self-asphyxiation while doing an act of auto-eroticism, does this make the song "never tear us apart" any less heart-wrenching and beautiful? Freddie Mercury died of complications related to AIDS, is anything Queen has put out (the band he fronted) any less mesmerizing?
Just to put things in context, what is scandalous today is admissible tomorrow, and vice versa. The social norms - believe it or not - keep fluctuating sometimes "forward" sometimes "backwards" - whatever those directions mean. HIV was a plague in the 80s, today there are pills which steady its progression to the level of "undetectable load". So an outrage by today's standards, could be nothing but a tame affair in the lexicon of history.
Going back to Kevin Spacey, his other role which he delivered in a breathtaking way is in "American Beauty" as an advertising executive infatuated with his neighbor's teenage daughter. If this is not a case of art imitating life or life imitating art I know not what is. When Spacey had the hots for a teenager, he was given an academy award, when he did so in real life, he became persona  non grata in the art world.

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