Monday, October 04, 2010

Judge the work, not the artist

I came across an intriguing article in the New York Times entitled, “When Life Gets In The Way Of Art” that ponders, if an artist lies, does it change how we see their work.

It’s a highly worthwhile read and an issue that I’ve come across before in discussion with other artists, collectors, and admirers. Though, these discussions weren’t actually related to the truthfulness of particular artists (the NYTIMES article discusses such examples as the famed civil rights era photographer Ernest C. Withers and the recent  revelation that he was a paid FBI informant, and Casey Affleck’s film, “I’m Still Here” documentary – now mockumentary -  of the unsightly celebrity disintegration of the actor Joaquin Phoenix, now revealed as a hoax), as much as they were about whether it was possible or not  to still admire the work of a great artist after discovering something disagreeable about them. For example, Edward Hopper’s mental and physical abuse of his wife Jo or Clint Eastwood’s conservative politics.

I came to the conclusion that, as a general rule, it is better to judge the work rather than the artist who created it. Of course, there are extreme exceptions to the rule – Hitler, John Wayne Gacy come to mind – and I have personally met artists who were such complete nincompoops that I basically dismissed them and their work in one fell swoop, but overall, I prefer to remain neutral. If there are idiosyncrasies of an artist that merit some form of eyebrow raising attention or scorn, history, or sometimes even the work itself, often has a way of revealing them.

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