The Daily Post asks Do you need to agree with an artist’s lifestyle or politics to appreciate their art? To spend money on it?
I used to think that an artist’s personal choices did not affect my appreciation of his or her art. It seems that Chanel was a Jew hater and a Nazi, but I still love wearing Chanel No 5. Of course, I can justify that by saying that technically she did not create it – her perfumier did – and it no longer belonged to her anyway when she sold it to a couple of Jewish business men. But I still like all things Chanel. She was an inspired clothes designer, even though she wasn’t a very nice person. But it seems even I have lines I won’t cross.
The Frantic Blogster makes a good point. I’ve never felt the same about Arthur C. Clarke since 1998, when he was accused of being a pedophile who preyed on young Asian boys. The accusations have since been refuted, but it jarred me badly at the time, especially since I had always thought I made no connection between a person’s actions and their art.
How much would I tolerate? I am not such a great fan of Clark’s books that it would be have been an inconvenience to boycott him. 2001 was neither my favourite book or movie. I could live without Chanel No 5 if I wanted to make that statement. There are many other lovely perfumes – I would wear Yves St Laurent‘s Opium. (And yes, I do consider a perfume to be a work of art – there is as much art in blending aromas as in blending paint.)
But what of the artists I do admire absolutely? The painters whose work inspires me, like Vincent Van Gogh? Do their personal lives affect the way I see their art?
Vincent van Gogh is seen as more of a victim of his times than an outright sinner – he had a venereal disease, he consorted with prostitutes, he had manic episodes such as when he cut off his ear, he clearly was suffering some mental illness or environmental reaction, such as lead in the paint he used, or the absinthe he put away (quite a lot of it, containing a toxic herb called wormwood). But if some far worse accusation were leveled at him, such as pedophilia, would it make his paintings less harrowingly, heartbreakingly beautiful? Would it make Starry Night less lyrical? Would the art that he created have less impact, less meaning?
Vincent was a great artist, a misunderstood genius. He painted from his soul, his pores, his brain, his heart. He threw every facet of himself, and his life, at the canvas. Quite honestly, if he had been a serial rapist, child molester or power hungry fascist, he would not have been able to hide it. It would have been all there on his canvases. Look at them,and you will see the absinthe, the loneliness, the mania and the desperate search for meaning (he was a very religious man who lost his faith) all right there in the swirls of paint. And the viewer would have recoiled,and turned the paintings to the wall, never again to meet the naked eye. Vincent was brutally honest – that is what makes his art so great.
In the end, I think nasty comes through – and it repels all but a certain kind of art voyeur. A true artist cannot hide his or her identity in what is created, not if it is created with truth and passion. I think of the artists I admire most, and I see that their essence comes through in their work – there is no problem or paradox here. The great are great inside as well as in their art. That’s how I see it anyway.