Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Man in the Mirror

Recently my partner and I just got around to watching a Woody Allen movie that we found on sale in Seoul for the equivalent of $3 (US). Bullets Over Broadway had Korean subtitles and John Cusack (who will play the part of me in the cinematic adaptation of my life and times) and those two factors tipped the balance of the scales enough that we said "what the heck?" and added it to our collection.

This reviewer really wanted to like it more. The only redeeming part that stuck with me was the reoccurring discussion of this question: "Who do you love more, the artist or the man?" This reminded me of one of conversations my cousin and I keep having over the many years we've known each other. From my point of view, it is entirely possible to love the artist but not the man (or woman). For example, I was so glad I was able to see the "Godfather of Soul" in Seoul before he died at the end of last year. His concert was simply amazing- despite the fact he thought he was in Beijing!

The other side is that the personal life of James Brown is nothing to be proud about. Rather than going into a long litany of his other failings and sounding pompous and judgemental, I'll just note that he physically abused his various wives repeatedly but served no jail time and paid only minimal fines.

My coworker also had a similar conversation with his partner. Given the latest about yet another Boy George scandal, my coworker asserted the man really wasn't worth bothering over. However his partner strongly disagreed, asserting the amazing career of Boy George made him worthy of celebrity.

In 1999, Elia Kazan received an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. This caused a dilema for many in attendance. Some could not overlook Kazan's cooperation with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the 1950's where he "named names" of those belonging to the Communist Party. Others felt that enough time had passed that it was appropriate to bury the hatchet and recognize Kazan's great artistic accomplishments.

These men are just a few examples of such contradictions between the public work and personal lives of the famous. Michael Jackson, Gérard Depardieu, Bill Clinton and Woody Allen are others that spring to my mind. A part of us wants to honour them for their work and the good that they did but another part of us has to weigh that against their less than perfect personal lives.

I've pondered on this question over this past week. My feeling is that it really depends on the gravity of the crimes committed and the genius of their work. For example, Adolf Hitler was an artist but his work was really quite negligible compared to all the harm he put into the world. In the movie, Amadeus, Salieri was forced to admit that, despite all of Mozart's many failings, his musical talent was inspired. At the end of the movie that inspired this post, the main character asks his wife "Could you love a man who wasn't an artist?" His wife carefully replies "I could love a man who was an artist but I couldn't love an artist who wasn't a man."

And that leads me to my final thought. At the end of the day, what's our review? Does the good that we have worked toward outweigh the missteps we have made? I personally believe that the Big Guy in the Sky cuts us some slack in this department. It's called grace and we all get it regardless of whether we deserve it or not. Should I extend this grace to others and if so, in what ways?


Your Cousin said...

Well, you definitely know how I feel. I almost started speaking to my computer monitor the sentence before you mentioned me. :)

I can only appreciate an artist if he lives a good life. I don't need someone to be an angel, we all have fault. But to earn my respect you can't lay hands on another person.

I do boycott artists (I wouldn't have gone to a James Brown concert) if they have hurt other people. It makes me lose respect for them an in turn, I can't appreciate their artist qualities. To me, an artist's life and work should be interchangeable.

People like Clinton and Amadeus, I believe, don't deserve to be in the same category as Brown, Depardieu and Jackson Brown. Elia Kazan is a hard situation. That was an era of fear. Granted he didn't have to name names, but his life as he knew it would have been over. Whatever decision he made had dire consequences. I believe that was more a product of the times than his own personal choice between right and wrong.

I agree with you. Everyone should be shown grace. Ultimately, it is not for me to judge other people. But I can chose to vote with my dollars. I can decide not to support people who harm others. I exercise this right whenever I can.

sassiekiwi said...

Good post ... this makes me think of the other big argument that relates to this ... what is important, character or charisma? Initially people are drawn to charisma but I have to conclude that charisma without character is a hollow thing without a lot of depth.

I can appreciate the art but I have less respect for it when the artist is BLUGH. I think of that scripture that we are God's workmanship - the greek implication is we are his artpieces. With this in mind, I always think of how the artist is impregnated in their creation. If someone heard a Mozart piece that was undiscovered and they were really familiar with Mozart, they would still know it was a Mozart because he is in his composition. Likewise people look at a Renoir and say, oh yes thats definately a Renoir - it has all the hallmarks ...

Yes grace is extended and for that I am thankful but grace is not an excuse for lack of character. how much more impacting could the art be, if the artist was fully in tune with themselves and being true to who God made them to be?