Discussion Post: What Are Our Personal Feelings on Art Versus Artist?

I’m watching the Farrow vs Allen doc now, and what is so different about it is that it actually directly addresses the art versus artist question. That’s genius, because normally these kind of stories avoid that whole element, and that leaves the audience a bit lost. I think we need to talk about art versus artist more, come up with more tools for ourselves to handle that question.

I think there are artists who, no matter how great their art is, deserve to be arrested and go to prison and generally punished for what they have done.

I think there is art that deserves to still be discussed and appreciated even if the artist who made it committed a crime of some kind.

Alok Nath's Sanskaars: 5 Times he Was an Adarsh Babuji
Alok Nath should go to jail, but I can still watch Hum Aapke Hain Koun. Both these things are true at the same time.

These two things almost but not quite conflict with each other, and it is drawing that line which is so very very important. If you love JD Salinger’s work, that doesn’t mean you HAVE to defend him personally. If you hate him personally, that doesn’t mean you HAVE to hate his books. He was a terrible terrible person who wrote lovely books. You can enjoy the books and hate the person, and hate the person but enjoy the books. It’s unfair to throw out great art because of a person’s behavior, and unfair to throw out a person’s behavior because you happen to like their art. We need to work hard, as a society, to become comfortable with that.

For myself, I’m gonna start with my most basic instinctive standard of art versus humanity. During WWII, there was a push by the Nazis to steal and store priceless amazing works of art, truly the greatest works of art ever made. And the allies had a team to try to save that art. The movie Monument Men deals with this, asks if it was worth it to sacrifice lives to save the art, and lands on “yes”. And I think I would land on “no”. Maybe if it was a choice, if someone said “I will die to save this art”, then yes. But to make this very very real, if the resources given to save artwork from the Nazis could have been given to save one Jewish child’s life, then I would rather that life were saved. There is no work of art of any greatness that has a value higher than a single innocent life. If I am in the Louvre and it catches fire and I can choose between saving the Mona Lisa and a child, I’m picking the child and never regretting it.

Family - The Legendary: Gene Kelly
Here’s a more common case. Gene Kelly stopped producing art at such a rapid rate when his wife got sick and then died, because he wanted to be sure to be there as a parent to his children. We could have gotten more Kelly classics, but it would have meant two kids who just lost their mother not seeing their father. I am okay with that balance.

But that is the most extreme case, and the world is never in such black and white. So I am left with the moral quandary of “when exactly am I choosing art over humanity? What particular situation makes that a choice?”

There’s two halves to this, first the sin against humanity and what level it was, and second the amount of support I am giving to the art.

Let’s look at Roman Polanski. He had sex with a 13 year old girl, raped her because she was 13 and that’s what it was. She was willing (as much as a 13 year old could be willing), he did not “groom” her or plan this in advance, he probably didn’t even know her age (she was a stranger introduced as a model that he met at a friend’s house), it was a crime of opportunity. And then his court case got stuck in this strange legal limbo, at one point he was willing to plead guilty and serve the amount of time that was standard for such a crime at the time of his arrest, but then the prosecutors suddenly withdrew that deal and offered a much higher punishment, which lead to him fleeing the country. In the present day, the 13 year old victim has forgiven him publicly, Polanski has admitted his guilt many times and his regrets and apologies. And he has never been accused of a similar crime again, pointing once more to it being a crime of opportunity and not planning.

Okay, with all those details in mind, how do we balance our choice of art over humanity? If the plea deal had worked out and he had served his prison sentence and was in the present day still regretful etc., would you watch his films currently? If he was like many other male celebrities and never prosecuted for having sex with a child even though we all knew about it, would you feel better or worse (Charlie Chaplin, Bill Wyman, Rabindrinath Tagore, Edgar Allan Poe, etc. etc.)? Does the survivor’s statement that she herself holds no ill will mean you need to feel differently about the crime against society? That’s what I mean by balancing the sin against humanity.

YOUNG TAGORE with his wife, Mrinalini. | Rare photos, Vintage india, History
Tagore. Never forget. He wrote the National Anthem, and he impregnated a child. Both these things are true.

On the flipside, let’s look at the artwork. It’s not just that Polanski makes great films, he makes humanist films. If “The Pianist” can make someone more empathetic, more caring and understanding towards others, does that in anyway alter the calculation of his crime? If the artwork contributes to humanity, do you balance the contribution it makes against what the artist has removed from humanity?

All of that, for me, is kind of the prequel to the decision. Do I even feel this is a situation where humanity is more important than Art? If I decide it is, then I have another series of questions for myself.

Let’s look at Queen. Directed by a rapist, starring a sociopath. I definitely have issues with this piece of Art. Now, I have to decide if I need to do something about it.

Movie review: Queen | The Michigan Daily

This is where I get to my four rules:

  1. Is consuming this art in some way supporting the artist, either directly financially or indirectly by giving them greater power/popularity in the world?

With Queen, yes. First, Vikas Bahl was a producer so he is likely getting a cut of any money still to be made. Second, even if he isn’t, every time I click that “watch” button on Netflix it means the Netflix algorithms are making him a more popular director and recommending Shaandar to more people, and eventually increasing his perceived power. But if I watch Queen illegally on einthusan, I’m fine! He gets no money or recognition for that. So that’s an option.

2. Is the artist’s attitude towards humanity in some way part of their artwork such that it makes me uncomfortable?

With Queen, Vikas Bahl’s direction seems to be almost not there, it is far more about the actors and improvising and the script. Shaandar yes, I feel like there is something ugly there, but Queen no. With Kangana, in many of her films there is this disconnect and inability to relate to her scene partner that makes me uncomfortable. But the structure and narrative of Queen means that disconnect makes sense (she can’t speak the language, is in a strange place), so it doesn’t bother me.

3. Is consuming the art somehow creating a public statement that I just don’t care about the victims?

With Queen as it is, no. The Netflix stats and so on are private, they will give a career advantage, but they won’t be a public statement. However, I do not give money to any new Kangana film because I feel like those public box office figures are saying to her victims “you don’t matter to me” and that is hurtful.

4. On a purely personal level, does it make you feel icky?

There is no right answer here! For whatever reason, some things just feel ickier to people than others. With Queen, if you can still enjoy it (on einthusan, without giving any money) knowing what you know about the artists, fine by me, go to it. But for me personally, it makes me feel icky. On the other hand, I have no problem enjoying Salman Khan artwork, and I know for some people that is their icky line.

That’s what I’ve got. It’s not really an answer, but I think this is one of those areas where we all need to do personal work to think through our feelings, so that when (inevitably) we are faced with this question about an art/artist we like, we will have an answer ready to go.

24 thoughts on “Discussion Post: What Are Our Personal Feelings on Art Versus Artist?

  1. I once started watching Hate Story on Netflix, but as soon as I read director’s name (Vivek Agnihotri) I turned it off and never came back.

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  2. My rules are the following:

    1. Weighing the art versus the artist. So here are some examples of what I mean: I can no longer watch Queen because the director and actress are awful human beings. But I did watch Panga because Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari is one of my favorite directors. Tiwari took a long time to come out with her first movie. She has not made too many movies but each movie she has directed is distinctly female and focused on women. I want to support her and that out weighted Kangana to me. On the other hand, despite how much I like Hrithik, the sham exoneration of Vikas Bhal for Super 30 was too disgusting for me to ever watch the movie.

    2. It’s a combination of the icky feeling with will my watching the film show that I don’t care about the victims. I get that this is completely subjective. Subhash Ghai grosses me out and I am very happy he is no longer getting work. But I can watch his old movies without being grossed out and frankly without even thinking of him. When I watch his movies I feel like I am supporting Madhuri, or Mahima or Aishwarya and their work and not supporting him. However, with someone like Aditya Pancholi or Nana Patekar, there has to be something VERY special about the movie and the artists have to be portrayed as evil for me to watch it. If not, the ick factor almost always wins out. For example, I can watch Yes Boss or Hameesha because Pancholi is evil and I can only see him as evil and I like the other actors in it a lot.

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    • Ooo, that point 1 is REALLY important! I am so glad you brought it up! Especially with film, there are so many people almost equally involved, you end up punishing all of them instead of just the guilty party. Of course then there’s the wider issue of “are they are guilty because they were willing to work with the guilty party?”. Which gets balanced against “but at the time the film was planned, was the guilt known? Are their extenuating circumstances that mean they didn’t really have a choice?” In your example, I think Kangana was cast in Panga before she got really really bad, and equally important, a female director making a female lead film has limited ability to say “no” when a powerful actress makes an offer.

      Thank you for bringing up Ghai! I thought it was just me. I do find it fascinating that he has basically been blackballed by the industry without any major scandal. I mean, I know there have been scandals, but that was in the pre MeToo era and it certainly isn’t brought up by the press now. And yet by golly, folks just WILL NOT work with him. So going back to your other point, in that case people said “no, it is not worth it to me to work with him any more, I would have no excuse that would let myself do it”.

      On Tue, Mar 9, 2021 at 2:19 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Yes, the power dynamic makes all the difference! Hrithik, for example, had enough star power and clout that Vikas did not need to be let off the hook for the movie to be successful. Hrithik could have supported the women and if he did, he condemned Vikas and I would have had no problem watching the movie. But the lengths Hrithik went to justify his own actions of “supporting” the women while justifying that Vikas was properly investigated and exonerated was just disgusting. And there is no way for me to support that. Ashwini doesn’t have the same power as Hrithik. But I actually appreciated that Ashwini kept Kangana in line at least until the movie was released. The filming and promotion of Panga was probably the only time in recent history that Kangana wasn’t off the rails and I am giving Ashwini 100% credit for it.

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        • Hrithik and Super 30 I find SUPER interesting. Because he started out doing the right thing, and then weakened. He stopped filming dead for months, was looking at getting a different director, all those things. And then I am assuming looking at the financial loss he would take, and pressure from the studio, he caved. He knew the right thing to do, he was doing the right thing, and then he reached a breaking point and decided it was just too hard. I will still watch his movies and stuff, but I hope at some point he acknowledges he was wrong then. I am also just assuming he will never work with Vikas again.

          On Tue, Mar 9, 2021 at 3:42 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Same. I will watch other Hrithik movies. I just can’t justify watching Super 30. And this is why I love someone like Preity and will always support her. She kept fighting even when things got hard and were likely going to result in a huge financial losses and potentially be a career ending move!

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          • And also, shockingly, Anurag Kashyap!!!! I would not have picked him as the person to dissolve his whole company in order to dissociate completely from a rapist.

            On Tue, Mar 9, 2021 at 4:35 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • I’m less surprised about Anurag. He is such a enigma to me. I never had a problem with him despite his distasteful personal life and his smugness. Unlike Ram Gopal Verma, who gave Anurag his break. RGV can be a genius but it also so so so icky!

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          • SO ICKY!!!!! RGV is SO ICKY!!! Anurag I find less icky on film, more like he is interested in investigating people who are icky? I’m thinking of Dev.D where the story was about how our hero saw women in an icky way and that was the cause of all his problems.

            On Tue, Mar 9, 2021 at 5:01 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. With Woody Allen, it is hard because his art is infused with his wrongness. It is very funny, yet or perhaps because it is kinda wrong. But my husband and I have decided that even though he is a rapist, Cosby is a comic genius. That part of him that made him drug women and rape them, it isn’t there in the comedy. So we decided we could laugh with Cosby without guilt. Though in practical terms we generally don’t as we aren’t watching his TV shows or listening to his comedy in the car, but we will laugh at a YouTube clip occasionally.

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    • Yes!!!! I totally agree with both your points. With Woody, it’s one of those “well, yeah. It was there all the time. It’s not just that we should have seen it, we did see it, and we laughed at it.” But with Cosby, his art didn’t overlap with his crimes, he happened to mostly work with family/kid based humor, so his attitude towards woman and sex just didn’t come up.

      Setting aside the “am I supporting the victim/giving money to the criminal” question, just enjoying the art, it seems reasonable.

      On Tue, Mar 9, 2021 at 4:10 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. I love these discussion posts. They get me out of my semi-qurantine funk.

    I saw the Netflix doc Made You Look and came away awed at what some people will do for “ART”. I mean, cry over a Motherwell? I saw DaVincis and Michelangelos up close and personal, and I have to say, they were lovely but I wouldn’t skip dinner for one. I must be a cold-hearted bi__ch. I like music in a distracted, emotional way. It’s in the background while I do something else, and ballet leaves me cold. I adore watching dance, just not Swan Lake. I don’t understand performance art where a woman sticks a banana up her…well, you know what I mean. I’m saying all this becaue art, no matter what genre, is subjective to the artist and the viewer. The maker makes what’s in his heart. Once it becomes commercial, to me it’s no longer credible. When Basquiat got famous and started knocking them out to pay for his habit, his stuff stank. And the viewer sees what’s in his heart. So it doesn’t matter to me who the artist and the audience are. I could care less what Woody Allen may or may not have done. In fact, I’d rather not know if he diddled donkeys or won a Nobel Prize.

    Now this is going to sound really hokey, but trees, birdsong, my dog shaking her little butt as she walks along, that’s the best art. And we all know who created that.

    Maybe I should go back into my funk.

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    • So you are putting the art as something both separate from the artist, but also with no real true value?

      If we think of art as a product, and if you know a filmmaker (for instance) is going to take the money you pay for that product and use it to do evil, would you want to know that so you can avoid consuming the art?

      On Tue, Mar 9, 2021 at 5:22 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • GoDaddy creates websites. I wouldn’t use them because the owners hunt and kill animals for sport. (And post pix of their “triumphs”) I don’t really consider web design art, but I guess what I’m saying is I’d rather not consume the art of an evil creator, but ignorance is bliss. If I don’t know that a film I want to watch was made by a creep, I can enjoy it w/o guilt. I’m putting myself front and center, not the issue.

        I spent a good part of my life championing causes. Now I guess, I champion myself.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. My metric isn’t super academic I feel like, but one of the ways I draw the line is “how do I explain myself if someone I love is shocked or pained that I chose to watch/read/listen to something? Is it worth them never looking at me the same again? Will I feel good about any ‘agree to disagree’ conversations this sparks?” — to use an example from above, knowing what I do about Kangana and Vikas now, I will never watch Queen again. I wouldn’t be able to explain myself to someone if they were shocked, and the movie itself wouldn’t be worth them never looking at me the same again, and I wouldn’t feel good about an ‘agree to disagree’ conversation. Same with Super 30, I won’t be watching it despite my (….well documented) love of Hrithik and of sappy inspirational “underdog championing other underdogs” movies. I’ve stopped watching Johnny Depp movies that I don’t already own on DVD because teaching Hollywood that despite his actions, people will still pay to see movies he is in isn’t something I want to promote.

    To me artists, directors, actors, etc will always have the power to quash things they don’t want said about them and they’ll always have the power to talk over the people they could be harming. So if something does fight to the surface I had better damn well pay attention to it and even more so pay attention to how said artist, director, actor, etc. handles some fact or allegation pushing up out of the water and getting a gasp of air. Does the person dig into their hatred or abuse or harm with a “well but…” when confronted with it? Do they want you to pretend they’re not hurting someone or a great number of people? Do they seem like they care that they’ve affected a real live human being? What about the people around them, how are they acting?

    Kangana digs into her abuse and hatred and harm, reveling in it as it destroys the lives of a ton of people.
    Vikas wants you to pretend he’s not harmed people so he can go back to playing happy (film set) family.
    Johnny doesn’t seem to care that he’s affected real live human beings with his actions, he can only whine that people are being mean to him and not giving him a fair shake.

    So these are people I can’t support, because the answers to my 3 questions don’t make me feel super happy with regard to their movies and none of these people are handling facts about and allegations against them with any modicum of remorse or maturity.

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      • Honestly I won’t get into it with you about who is right in that situation, but I feel my point stands with Johnny not being able to handle the allegations against him with any modicum of remorse or maturity.

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    • I really like that metric. I would add “someone I love and respect” because there are people I love where I don’t respect their opinions. But yes, something you may be able to justify in your own mind, is so much harder when you think about it in terms of justifying yourself to someone else.

      I also agree that there is so much difference in how the celebrity handles the accusation! Not all accusations are true, ultimately. But if someone strongly denies it, I am way less likely to believe them. If they say “I have no memory of this, but certainly I take responsibility for it if I did it” or some variation of that, I am more likely to doubt them. And of course, depending on what the situation is, if they say “I did it, it was terrible, I am sorry” that also makes a difference. There is redemption in the world, but there has to be sincere remorse first.

      And yeah, Johnny. That’s perfect. What he did is really bad, but it is also something that I could believe in redemption and growth. Take responsibility, do the work, try to be better, and I would feel better. Don’t just dig in your heels, ugh!

      On Wed, Mar 10, 2021 at 8:35 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Ooh I like that addition, it was definitely an unconscious part of what I typed out — obviously I love my grandma but she and I are never going to see eye to eye about certain things so I don’t need to worry if she’ll fret over a movie I don’t like OR won’t give up!

        And Johnny — what was so frustrating was how he dug his heels in so hard. It made everything he had to say feel very icky and suspect.

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        • Yes! It is possible to gracefully acknowledge the possibility, and be respectful to the victims, while still not saying “I’m guilty”. It’s harder than just saying “She’s a liar, I’m awesome”, but that’s why you have a PR team! They can help you thread the needle and not come off as such a totally uncaring horse’s behind.

          On Tue, Mar 16, 2021 at 9:17 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          Liked by 1 person

  6. In the context of India,it will be practically easier to point out leaders from the past who did NOT marry a child than vice versa.It was an absolute shocker for me that even men as admirable and of an unblemished character as Babasaheb Ambedkar and Periyar (not artists per se,but we owe our lives to them)had married a child.
    Unfortunately while the world sings paeans to Tagore,it is forgotten that Mrinalini(the child he was wed to)translated Sanskrit Upanishads into English.Though it can be hard to cancel the art for the artist,I believe that the best alternative is to amplify the voices of the subaltern that have been forgotten with time.
    But if the artist uses their art to justify their debauchery,it becomes important to stay away from it.I feel the same sense of disgust against Queen,because K*ngna will keep harping about it as a feminist work while pulling down fellow artists.

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    • Yes!!!! Woody Allen is a brilliant filmmaker who made delightful movies. But he also slowly subtly got us used to the idea of beautiful younger women being in love with him, so that his constant predatory behavior with teen girls felt “normal”. So watching his movies is different, worse.

      On Wed, Mar 10, 2021 at 10:17 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  7. Why do others‘ opinions seem to factor so strongly into what art someone is willing to consume? If I thought that I would really help some crooked artist’s victims by boycotting that person’s work, then yes, I would do it. But I would never dare tell someone to stop watching something because it might *look* like they don’t care about the victims. There would need to be a much more direct connection between the art and the negative effects. Like, if the earnings from the work went into funding child porn or whatever. Or if the work itself is promoting values I disagree with. Modern Nazi music is a prime offender on both counts.

    That is the last line for me, where I see it as a moral question. Anything above that is a lot less fixed for me. I think if someone asked me whether Queen is a good movie, I would still have to say yes. Same for American Beauty, though personally my enjoyment of that has suffered from the reveals about Kevin Spacey. But I couldn’t tell someone they’re wrong for liking that movie.

    An analogy: If I buy a new car, something with many parts that many people worked on, some of them may be wife beaters and some are sociopaths that make working with them he’ll and so on. We just don’t know it because those people aren’t in the public eye. And if the product itself is good, I won’t punish everyone who worked on it because of one co-worker.

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    • I will add something else, past crimes of the corporation. Every once in a while in America I will see some well-meaning person who says I shouldn’t drink Fanta or have a VW because it has a Nazi history. But that’s crazy, that’s about people from long long in the past, how can it affect the car I am driving today?

      However, even with your very open rules, we still get back to Woody Allen. The money you pay for his product goes directly to his pocket, and then to his PR machine and legal defense fund. And in addition, all of his work is designed to normalize ephebophilia.

      On Thu, Mar 11, 2021 at 7:40 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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