Love The Art, Hate The Artist?

MercuryCrest

The Severed Head of a Great Old One.
Joined
Mar 24, 2003
Messages
1,740
To Yithian's point:

There was an author, famous for a particular book, who wrote another one that was promised to be a "comedy of errors". I bought the book, made it about half-way through, and found myself stymied.

I literally could not tell if the author was:

A.) Merely a product of his time.
B.) Casting a lens back on general racism (y'know, a sharp criticism and the like).
C.) Actually fucking racist.

When I realized that I couldn't tell the difference, I put the book down and eventually got rid of it.

Edit: I meant to say, "To Enola's point." But there are a lot of good points made in this thread, so my post stands.
 
Last edited:

maximus otter

Recovering policeman
Joined
Aug 9, 2001
Messages
10,270
I’d bet that there is barely an artist - especially in the music scene of the last seven decades - who hasn’t done something that somebody would find “offensive”.

This very forum has an adulatory thread devoted to an artist who repeatedly had sex with seriously underage girls: Where are the demands for it to be shut down and expunged from memory?

I’ll still listen to my Kate Bush CD with its contributions from a convicted paedophile, because my not enjoying it wouldn’t make a flippin’ bit of difference to anything.

The second biggest sign of madness is looking for hairs on the palm of your hand.

maximus otter
 

stu neville

Commissioner.
Staff member
Joined
Mar 9, 2002
Messages
13,185
I literally could not tell if the author was:

A.) Merely a product of his time.
B.) Casting a lens back on general racism (y'know, a sharp criticism and the like).
C.) Actually fucking racist.
Interestingly, earlier Alf Garnett was mentioned:
Alf Garnet in Till Death Us do Part. For those younger, it was an late 60's and early 70's weekly comedy program of this self opinionated ignorant bastard that was a perfect example of pure racism. The main character was a bigoted racist nasty piece of work, who treated his wife like dirt, using language that now can't be shown on tv. The program was a portrayal of that type of person who existed and still exists, albeit to a lessor extent, yet for some reason, instead of saying this is a great example of those types of people, it cannot ever be shown on on tv because of the content.
Garnett (the template for the later Archie Bunker, Stateside) was a very carefully drawn caricature, with lots of layers and an incredibly detailed portrayal by Warren Mitchell.

Mitchell, being of North London Jewish stock knew all about bigots like Alf having grown up around them, as did the writer Johnny Speight, and the latter said that much of Alf's dialogue was more or less lifted from the saloon bar of his local. What shocked Mitchell however was the reception he got in London pubs, with people buying him drinks for 'saying it as it is' and 'talking their language'. Despite their fear that they'd over-drawn the caricature in fact they'd produced a photo-realistic portrait.

This will always be risk when you satirise the grotesque: not only giving the monsters self-validation but being branded a monster yourself.

We've discussed tone-deaf sitcoms elsewhere, on the Plain Awful Comedy thread, so if there's more to add to this head over to that one- we'll stick to the art/artist dichotomy here.
 

catseye

Old lady trouser-smell with yesterday's knickers
Joined
Feb 1, 2010
Messages
4,891
Location
York
Interestingly, earlier Alf Garnett was mentioned:

Garnett (the template for the later Archie Bunker, Stateside) was a very carefully drawn caricature, with lots of layers and an incredibly detailed portrayal by Warren Mitchell.

Mitchell, being of North London Jewish stock knew all about bigots like Alf having grown up around them, as did the writer Johnny Speight, and the latter said that much of Alf's dialogue was more or less lifted from the saloon bar of his local. What shocked Mitchell however was the reception he got in London pubs, with people buying him drinks for 'saying it as it is' and 'talking their language'. Despite their fear that they'd over-drawn the caricature in fact they'd produced a photo-realistic portrait.

This will always be risk when you satirise the grotesque: not only giving the monsters self-validation but being branded a monster yourself.

We've discussed tone-deaf sitcoms elsewhere, on the Plain Awful Comedy thread, so if there's more to add to this head over to that one- we'll stick to the art/artist dichotomy here.
And do you divorce the ACTOR (who is merely saying words in a convincing way), from the WRITER, who wrote the sentiments in the first place? I suppose you could say that the actor must condone the writer's words in some way, by performing them, but suppose the actor is trying to add a layer of sentiment via his performance, to words he feels are a little too over the top? Actors can be bribed or cajoled to act in something that might go against their moral stance for all sorts of reasons. So who would be the artist you would hate in this situation - the actor or the writer? Or both?
 

Tunn11

Abominable Snowman
Joined
Nov 23, 2005
Messages
619
Location
Under the highest tree top in Kent
I was thinking about this last night and came to the conclusion that it is a matter of degree. Bear with me while I outline a scenario.

It is your grandparent’s golden wedding. It is being held in the hotel they met in just after the war when he, a conscript, was washing “Kilroy was ‘ere” graffiti off an outside hotel wall and she, a waitress took sympathy on him and brought him a beer.

The hotel have commissioned a pen and ink drawing of the hotel as it was in 1946 and it sits on an easel for family and friends to admire prior to being framed. As with many works of this type it has intricate detail and a lot of white space.

You notice many people admiring it but notice that one is drawing on a corner of it in pencil. You alert security and the culprit is stopped. They have added a fairly talented drawing of your grandparents in 1946 next to the wall of the hotel along with a rendering of the Kilroy graffito and signed it.

Your Grandparents are upset but another guest has an artist’s eraser and as the drawing is lightly applied in pencil manages to remove it.

Now two alternatives.

One. The culprit is an hotel employee who wanted to add their good wishes and thought the pencil sketch added to the gift.

Two, The culprit is an internationally famous artist whose signature commands five figure sums (seven with the pence) who rarely draws people and who wanted to add their good wishes and thought the pencil sketch added to the gift.

In both cases the law has technically been broken but will the reaction to the employee and artist be different? Or the attitude to the kind soul who removed the pencil sketch? Admittedly the law breaking was pretty minor compared to, murder, exploitation, etc. but the artist has still broken the law and probably would be thanked for it.

So, I contend that it is all a matter of degree and the argument is about what level of lawbreaking is acceptable for the level of talent displayed; or worse the financial value put on that talent.
 

stu neville

Commissioner.
Staff member
Joined
Mar 9, 2002
Messages
13,185
So who would be the artist you would hate in this situation - the actor or the writer? Or both?
Neither, because I understand the context in which it was written and performed.

However, once we start talking about Curry & Chips, also penned by Speight, it gets less clear-cut (and there's a couple of other people involved on all levels with that who should have known better too, but again that's discussed in Plain Awful Comedy).
 

Cochise

Priest of the cult of the Dog with the Broken Paw
Joined
Jun 17, 2011
Messages
7,643
I'm fine with it most of the time, but where is gets more complicated is when the dodgy aspect of the artist's life becomes a (n essential) component of the artwork.
It's also to do with contemporary values. Many books written in the 20's and 30's (a favourite period of mine) have casual racist slurs and stereotypes. None of which would have seemed at all out of order to 99% of people who first read them, and I don't think they should affect our appreciation of them now, even though by modern standards we would consider the authors racist. Nor do I think we should go back and edit them, although a warning is fine.

When however, the work is designed to racially denigrate a particular ethnicity, then I draw the line. Although even that is a judgement call. Sometimes you need to think about other works by the author and decide whether it is one ill-judged plot or an established pattern. I have one particular author in mind who wrote a couple of books which dismissed people of colour as subhuman, but had positive characters of several coloured ethnicities in other books.

Some authors that worked over decades were obviously sensitive to the changes in what was acceptable - a cynic might suggest they simply wanted to keep their earnings up, but I'd suggest they never were racist, just unaware of how offensive were some of the words they had used in the past.
 

Mikefule

Abominable Snowman
Joined
Dec 9, 2009
Messages
964
Location
Lincolnshire UK
I'm a big fan of the original Sherlock Holmes stories. The author is well known to Forteans for his connection with the Cottingley Fairies, and his connection to spiritualism.

He was very much a white middle class man of his time writing for a white audience of his time.

It is shocking today to read his description of a negro (his word) caricatured with "hideous " lips and speaking in a Yassa Massa style. In no way do I condone this, and I would cringe at the thought of a black friend borrowing the book from me.

The author also included various stereotypical Asian and (his word) savage characters. We look back in horror now, but at that time, he was simply following the conventions and preconceptions of his background, his time, and his audience.

As such, I can "forgive it" as historical, and do not treat it as advocating or promoting racism, so much as simply parroting the inherent racism of the period.

Bottom line: I enjoy the books for the stories and the characters and I turn an uncomfortable blind eye to those parts that do not stand up to modern scrutiny.
 

stu neville

Commissioner.
Staff member
Joined
Mar 9, 2002
Messages
13,185
Bottom line: I enjoy the books for the stories and the characters and I turn an uncomfortable blind eye to those parts that do not stand up to modern scrutiny.
My younger son went through a heavy Tintin phase around fifteen years ago, when he was about ten, and collected about half a dozen of the books. I'd had nearly all of them myself when I was a kid, and rediscovered my collection whilst clearing my mother's attic: I dusted them off and presented them to my son, who devoured them avidly, back to back. One somewhat clichéd Sunday morning, I was outside washing the car and he brought "Tintin in the Congo" out to me. He pointed at the bit where Tintin is hailed as the all powerful mighty white man by genuflecting natives, and asked me why the book was so rude about black people, and that it's just not right.

At that moment I decided my opinion would be that the book should stand as it is, as a reminder of how far we've come. When a (then) primary school child can look at a book and, independently and unprompted, find its views repugnant then maybe we are making some progress after all. (Perhaps I should add that we live in a fairly diverse cultural area, and his primary school reflected this, so maybe that influenced his views somewhat.)

Nonetheless, I think it is, in a very minor way, similar to having war memorials, or concentration camp museums - it would have been easy to bulldoze and try to forget, but we don't need to forget: we need to remember. To ban Tintin books would be to ban a reminder of how Europe habitually treated everyone else, and perhaps a reminder as to why a sector of everyone else somewhat resents Europe and its descendants to this day.

Slightly OT - if it wasn't the first "talkie", how would The Jazz Singer be viewed today?
 

Krepostnoi

Increasingly disenchanted
Joined
Jul 9, 2012
Messages
4,239
I really struggle with this… one of my favourite ever Arthurian retellings is totally marred since I learned of the allegations of child abuse against the author. And the fact she endorsed her husband’s relationship with an underage boy. I’d love to be able to divorce the two, but just can’t.
I envy those who can.
Oh. That's a very unpleasant surprise. I've been meaning to read that for years, now, although something else always bubbled to the top of the TBR list. What a very live way to address the question in the OP.
 

James_H

And I like to roam the land
Joined
May 18, 2002
Messages
7,437
It's also to do with contemporary values. Many books written in the 20's and 30's (a favourite period of mine) have casual racist slurs and stereotypes. None of which would have seemed at all out of order to 99% of people who first read them, and I don't think they should affect our appreciation of them now, even though by modern standards we would consider the authors racist. Nor do I think we should go back and edit them, although a warning is fine.
Both of the people I'm talking about were publicly seen as unusually racist in an already racist time, as in crankily obsessed with racial topics (most people being casually racist by our standards, but it wouldn't take up much of their mental space day-to-day). So the 'it was a different time' argument doesn't really wash in those cases.
 

Cochise

Priest of the cult of the Dog with the Broken Paw
Joined
Jun 17, 2011
Messages
7,643
So the 'it was a different time' argument doesn't really wash in those cases.
That seems excessively dismissive. It's not an 'argument', it's how it was. In fact you make the point yourself, someone seen as a racist in 1930 would be an ultra by todays standards. I mean, we are talking a time when Eugenics was seen by many as an acceptable policy.

I'm including 'anti-Semitic' in with racism, incidentally.
 

James_H

And I like to roam the land
Joined
May 18, 2002
Messages
7,437
I really struggle with this… one of my favourite ever Arthurian retellings is totally marred since I learned of the allegations of child abuse against the author. And the fact she endorsed her husband’s relationship with an underage boy. I’d love to be able to divorce the two, but just can’t.
I envy those who can.
Sad to say, before I saw the 'she' I thought of another (male) paedophile reteller of Arthurian legends.
 

James_H

And I like to roam the land
Joined
May 18, 2002
Messages
7,437
That seems excessively dismissive. It's not an 'argument', it's how it was. In fact you make the point yourself, someone seen as a racist in 1930 would be an ultra by todays standards. I mean, we are talking a time when Eugenics was seen by many as an acceptable policy.

I'm including 'anti-Semitic' in with racism, incidentally.
Sorry, I wasn't trying to sound dismissive. I just mean that at that time everyone was a bit racist, so people who were seen as unacceptably racist at the time (like the two I'm talking about) were fairly extreme.
 

Mythopoeika

I am a meat popsicle
Joined
Sep 18, 2001
Messages
47,302
Location
Inside a starship, watching puny humans from afar
Sad to say, before I saw the 'she' I thought of another (male) paedophile reteller of Arthurian legends.
I looked up that male reteller of Arthurian legends earlier (I am assuming it is the same one), and was also dismayed to find that such a distinguished writer had been (allegedly) a paedo. Greatly disappointed, because I was thinking about buying a copy of his most famous work (which I read as a teenager). Not sure about buying it now.
 

James_H

And I like to roam the land
Joined
May 18, 2002
Messages
7,437
I looked up that male reteller of Arthurian legends earlier (I am assuming it is the same one), and was also dismayed to find that such a distinguished writer had been (allegedly) a paedo. Greatly disappointed, because I was thinking about buying a copy of his most famous work (which I read as a teenager). Not sure about buying it now.
Taking him on his own word, he never acted on his attractions, which does make a difference to me (unlike the couple mentioned by the previous poster who were engaged in some very nasty abuse). I've only listened to the books as radio plays but have thought about buying a copy because I thought they were quite good.

Not directly related, but related to the thread in general.
Here's another complicated issue: a fairly common computer font was designed by a very sexually abusive artist and designer. Should we avoid using it because of what he did?
 

Mythopoeika

I am a meat popsicle
Joined
Sep 18, 2001
Messages
47,302
Location
Inside a starship, watching puny humans from afar
Taking him on his own word, he never acted on his attractions, which does make a difference to me (unlike the couple mentioned by the previous poster who were engaged in some very nasty abuse). I've only listened to the books as radio plays but have thought about buying a copy because I thought they were quite good.

Not directly related, but related to the thread in general.
Here's another complicated issue: a fairly common computer font was designed by a very sexually abusive artist and designer. Should we avoid using it because of what he did?
You're right, there is no mention of any wrongdoing actually happening. I guess that writer decided to refrain from all sexual activity, even to the point of living on a small island (thus reducing the temptation).
Unfortunately, regarding that font, it is fairly ubiquitous. I use it myself occasionally, when designing documents.
 

Frideswide

Fortea Morgana :) PeteByrdie certificated Princess
Joined
Jul 14, 2014
Messages
14,403
Location
An Eochair
@James_H and @Mythopoeika It is the type face chap that is my case

I've got the chance to buy some wood engravings/etchings by an artist where I love the work but the private life is a huge cringe (and then some).
 

Mythopoeika

I am a meat popsicle
Joined
Sep 18, 2001
Messages
47,302
Location
Inside a starship, watching puny humans from afar
@James_H and @Mythopoeika It is the type face chap that is my case
If you're looking at them as an investment, hmmm. Tastes change with the wind.
If you like them on their own merit, it's up to you whether you buy them or not.
Somebody I worked with years back had bought some paintings done by a well known bearded Australian, as a gift for his wife. Then this Australian fellow had a spot of bother with the law. The co-worker asked me what to do. I said 'hang on to them - they may still have a value'. Because selling them at that time might have been problematic.
 

Frideswide

Fortea Morgana :) PeteByrdie certificated Princess
Joined
Jul 14, 2014
Messages
14,403
Location
An Eochair
If you're looking at them as an investment, hmmm. Tastes change with the wind.
If you like them on their own merit, it's up to you whether you buy them or not.

The one I want is an image I positively enjoy! Listening to the comments here I think I'm untangling my thought processes.
 

stu neville

Commissioner.
Staff member
Joined
Mar 9, 2002
Messages
13,185
...a fairly common computer font was designed by a very sexually abusive artist and designer. Should we avoid using it because of what he did?
A very famous piece of his work is outside a very well-known building, and indeed only a few weeks ago somebody set about it quite openly with a hammer and chisel.

Reprehensible people do bestow invaluable gifts, though. Pitt-Rivers the man was a monster - look him up* - but the museum in his name a national treasure.

*Edit to clarify - his behaviour towards others generally was cruel and utterly heartless, but to those under him or related to him he made their lives an absolute misery.
 
Last edited:

MercuryCrest

The Severed Head of a Great Old One.
Joined
Mar 24, 2003
Messages
1,740
This whole thread brought to mind something that happened a little while ago....

I'm part of a very small group on Facebook that deals with coronavirus memes in a dark humor sort of way.

I posted a meme (the members loved it but Facebook's algorithm stepped in and put me on notice) so I'll paraphrase it here:

"You've done a good job social-distancing, masking up, and self-isolating, so here's a photo of a really nice picture to reward you."

The user scrolls down, there is, in fact, a more-or-less nice picture of a painting.

At the bottom it says, "Congratulations, you just enjoyed a painting by Hitler."

I think that sums it up.
 

Krepostnoi

Increasingly disenchanted
Joined
Jul 9, 2012
Messages
4,239
I looked up that male reteller of Arthurian legends earlier (I am assuming it is the same one), and was also dismayed to find that such a distinguished writer had been (allegedly) a paedo. Greatly disappointed, because I was thinking about buying a copy of his most famous work (which I read as a teenager). Not sure about buying it now.
Visit your local library, maybe? It's not like he'll get any PLR income. I've got his book on falconry, loosely speaking, on my shelf as I speak, from the analogous source, and I've found it well worth my time: it's a much more complex work than I initially expected.
Taking him on his own word, he never acted on his attractions, which does make a difference to me
Yes, that has to count in his favour, doesn't it?

I suppose my own quandary revolves around the man who gave his name to my foundational Fortean text and the accompanying TV series. That said, I haven't exactly been tempted to revisit his sci-fi work. There have been questions raised* about exactly why he chose to emigrate, and to that particular country, although unless I'm wrong the allegations are not proven.

* These questions may not have been raised for the purest of motives, it must be said.
 
Last edited:

Frideswide

Fortea Morgana :) PeteByrdie certificated Princess
Joined
Jul 14, 2014
Messages
14,403
Location
An Eochair
Thinking about @C.O.T. 's thread on art and magic, can consumers/observers tell from the work alone if something is the result of blood and soul-stuff?

Which would be more objectionable or less worthy? (assuming that distinction is possible)

* the result of the blood and soul-stuff where whatever you object to is an inherent part of the process and product

* hack work done more or less by rote and still embodying the whatever-is-objectionable.

Personally, if I come at something through the object, without wider knowledge, and I find it pleasing or suitable or relevant I am much more likelt to be able to overcome the squicks whwn I find out about the being nasty to kittens aspect.

If I know of the artist and what ever makes me hesitate, and then see a piece which I want to own, I am less likely to be able to flatten the squicks to an extent that makes possessing it satisfying.

I'm interested in how people deal with the non-physical aspects of a physical item. The aura, or numinous quality that sometimes hangs around some things.
 
Top