On Art and Artists

While listening to a recent episode of The Skeptic Zone podcast, I heard a familiar question: how do you react when an artist, whose work you enjoy, turns out to be a kook?

The next day, I saw James Brown wins this week’s Roman Polanski award for “great art being created by really bad people.” article at the Lawyers, Guns, and Money blog. I thought it was interesting in that the Roman Polanski comparison was exactly what I had thought of. At work I was once discussing great movies with a couple of colleagues. I asked one individual his thoughts on “The Shawshank Redemption.” He said he “used to like it, until Tim Robbins …” and went on to claim some sort of treasonous statement or other had been made by the actor. Up to that point, it hadn’t really occurred to me that people would judge art based on their feelings about the artists. It may be news to some people, but many great actors, directors, designers, architects, athletes, etc. are terrible people. How, though, is that an issue.

I recalled having read about the “Piss Christ.” At the time, I felt like it was absurd in that it wasn’t artistic. The only emotion it evoked was in the form of outrage that depended critically on the viewer knowing the yellow color was from urine. I thought it was every bit as artistic as a teenager defecating on someone’s car.

My answer to the original question is that good art (a good performance, etc.) should only be judged on its own merits.