Separating the Art from the Artist: A Trial Run

As anyone who has been paying attention to the news for the past year or so knows, many famous individuals, especially men, have come under fire for committing harmful acts against others. The high volume of talented individuals being outed as horrible people has re-ignited the long-lasting debate of whether it is appropriate to still enjoy/purchase/celebrate art made by someone who is well-known to be horrible. Like many people at this time, I personally don’t have a firm opinion either way. Of course I am opposed to domestic and sexual abuse, but I also don’t know if a painting or an album can be held liable for heinous acts just because it was crafted by someone who committed said acts. One possible opinion on the matter is:

It is acceptable to enjoy art produced by a “bad” person if the artist is not given compensation or personal praise for the art. Middle-men like galleries and record labels have the responsibility for elaborating how the art itself is an amazing thing, while the artist as a person is not. 

With this in mind, what follows is a few takes on how I think this could play out in real life. Featured is a piece of art followed by text which could theoretically serve as the description of the item by a middle-man like an art gallery, magazine, or even Amazon. Enjoy!

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Manhattan is arguably the most beloved Woody Allen film. Featuring an amazing score of original pieces performed by the New York Philharmonic as well as the Buffalo Philharmonic, Manhattan is as delightful to listen to as it is to watch. A film about a middle-aged comedian who is dating a teenager, but also begins to pursue his best friend’s lover, Manhattan is an obvious self-led attempt to romanticize the perverted creep character that is Woody Allen. A man who definitely molested one of his adopted children, and married another shortly after she came of age, Allen seems to use Manhattan as a preemptive strike to normalize his philandering, pedophilic ways before they were brought to light. It seemed to work, as Allen has been married to his daughter since the early 90’s and has never been brought to trial or even shunned for the sexual abuse of other young girls. Thankfully though, viewers can enjoy Manhattan in peace, knowing that Isaac Davis (the film’s protagonist) is fictional, and thus has never been able to wreak havoc on the minds and bodies of vulnerable women. While still unlovable, fictional trash is better to grapple with than real trash.
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Ignition (Remix) by famed R&B singer R-Kelly is a quintessential banger that can be found in a “party playlist” for almost any event for almost any demographic. Like many R&B songs, this song is not-so-subtly about getting your freak on. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, the song does become uncomfortable to jam to once you realize that the object of R-Kelly’s affection- a “mama” who is “rolling her body”- is more likely than not a teenage girl. Although the accusations have only entered the spotlight in the 2000’s, R-Kelly has for decades carried a reputation of being one who has not just pedophilic tendencies, but an explicit desire for trapping teenage girls into sexually engaging him. Let’s not forget that prior to her death in 2001, R-Kelly married our beloved Aaliyah when she was just 15 years old! His explicit desires to get young women into hotels does not stop when Ignition (Remix) ends. He has been accused several times over of having teens and young adult women in his private suites while he has been on tour. While R-Kelly is eager to shrug off any potential sexual misconduct, saying “so what, I’m drunk,” the rest of us decent people can let it go that easily. Louder and louder now are the calls to send R-Kelly to court for sexual abuse, especially in light of the fact that he was acquitted in 2008 after being accused of filming sex with a young teenage girl. Ignition (Remix) might be a great song, but just remember: every time you jam out to it, you’re getting’ your groove on to the idea of a rich, famous man coercing a young woman into having sex with him back at his hotel. Enjoy!
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This iconic painting, Gloriosa Victoria, was painted by Diego Rivera, husband of famed painter Frida Kahlo, in 1954. A loud and proud Communist, Rivera used this mural to tell the awful truth about U.S.-Guatemalan relations in the 1950’s. While few dared to speak on the issue until years after the Guatemalan Civil War had ended, Rivera boldly called out the U.S. government and CIA for it’s installation of dictators and use of religious authority to murder and exploit indigenous peasants in the production and export of bananas, all before the Civil War even began. While Rivera displayed insightfulness and a commitment to justice in the public sphere, he somehow lacked the ability to apply the same ethics to his personal life. A known sexist and philanderer, he cheated on every wife he had, including Frida Kahlo, and it was well-known during his life that he slept with nearly every female model he used for his portraits. While there is nothing inherently wrong with sleeping with people while being married to another, the pretenses under which women had sex with, dated, or married him remain foggy as Rivera was known for having a quick and violent temper. The fact that he was an incredibly large man would have certainly contributed to his intimidating presence. Essentially, dude was trash. Perhaps he knew that the U.S. was willing to enact massive amounts of violence against those that defied them because he harbored the same sentiments within himself? Maybe he was so upset with foreign governments for being callously persistent in getting what they wanted from others because he was also frustrated with the same in himself? Just a theory. While there are ways to support the estates and original paintings of Rivera, feel free to just look them up on the internet or wait until a free museum near you exhibits some of his work.
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A painting that has brought me joy since childhood and has been displayed in my home at various points, Sunflowers is a timeless work by Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. With its signature style of sweeping, swirling brushstrokes and yellow hues, if you don’t get at least a tiny wave of happiness while looking at this painting, you’re probably a psychopath. Speaking of psychopaths, Van Gogh was probably one himself to be perfectly honest. Chronically homeless, manic, and addicted to alcohol and prostitutes, Vincent lived a life that left him largely estranged from the upper-middle class community he was born into. This version of Sunflowers (called “repetition of the 4th version) speaks subtle volumes about Van Gogh and his rapid physical decline. Unlike previous version, this iteration has a yellow background behind the already yellow flowers. Many of Van Gogh’s later paintings are heavy with yellows and are thought to reflect the “yellow vision” caused by years of heavy drinking. The sunflowers themselves are wilted and lacking most of their petals, perhaps speaking to the wilting of his own body. Bouts of STDs (no doubt due to his flings with prostitutes) accompanied his worsening vision. This “repetition” of Sunflowers reflects the sadness that lay underneath Van Gogh’s short-lived jovial façade. While masterpieces like this rendition of Sunflowers have led many to refer to Van Gogh as a “misunderstood genius,” given that he lived almost exclusively off of what he could mooch from his brother Theo and gifted a part of his ear that he cut off during a fight with a former friend to a prostitute, the term “misunderstood” may not be so accurate. Don’t even come at me with the “I would be flattered if he gave me his ear!” nonsense because you know you freaked out that one time you waved at a guy trying to be nice and he immediately added you on Facebook and Snapchat and sent you pics of the d. As Van Gogh died via suicide with no estate, spouse, children, or other assets besides his now incredibly expensive paintings, there are few opportunities to financially support this artist. Enjoy the often-free exhibits which feature his work knowing that you’re probably looking at a copy or print, not the original work.
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“The College Dropout” is the debut album of rapper Kanye West. Although he is now a White supremacist apologist who has aligned himself with individuals who could not care less about marginalized communities, 2004 Kanye was fearlessly outspoken about the plight of Black America, and “The College Dropout” was his soapbox. Through tracks like “Through the Wire” and “All Falls Down,” Mr. West discusses the obstacles minorities face as they try to overcome oppression and hardships and ponders what will become of those who actually manage to do so. While early fans probably thought that Kanye’s musings were built on a foundation of loyalty to one’s native community regardless of social status or wealth, they should have known better when he did an entire video where he took Stacy Dash to the airport and was actually upset that she was leaving. He finally caught up to her in the 2010’s, and they have been reunited through coonery and desperation to be accepted by a White populous that will never truly love them, all under the guise of enlightenment. If you’re looking for an album that speaks to souls angered by the injustices in our nation, you’ll love “The College Dropout.” Don’t spend your money on this album though- Mr. West is already generating tons of revenue via his overpriced line of slave clothes (recreations of the rags my ancestors chose to wear daily) and will forever be socio-economically stable thanks to his marriage into the Kardashian family, a series of heavily painted sex dolls who can only be purchased by rich Black men.

Society+Culture

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