Love the Art, not the Artist

I just finished watching a Woody Allen movie, and I loved it. Woody Allen movie are my guilty pleasure – and I say that in earnest. Unlike other ‘guilty pleasures’ – chocolate, rereading Harry Potter, sleeping in – I actually feel guilty when I watch Woody Allen movies, and everyone can probably guess why.

It has been over a year since Dylan Farrow told the world in an open letter what her father, Woody Allen, did to her. The story is horrifying and really sad. But it forced the question upon me: what do you you when you love art that is created by terrible people?

I remember when I was a child, reading Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree series and being absolutely entranced by the magic within the pages. I would read late into the night, often falling asleep with a torch still on. The next day, with sleepy eyes, I would climb the trees that surrounded our house. I would climb higher than I probably should have, when the branches became bendy and couldn’t hold my weight. I would climb in hopes of reaching the magical lands that were to be found at the top of The Faraway Tree. I wanted to meet Moon-Face, The Saucepan Man, and even The Angry Pixie. I wanted to visit the Land of Take-What-You-Want and the Land of Do-What-You-Please. I wouldn’t even mind if I ended up in the Land of Dame Slap.

When I got a bit older my dad gave me The Famous Five series, and I longed to lounge with the characters on sea shores sipping lemonade after exciting adventures. I thought tomboy George was so cool, she was stubborn, fiery, and didn’t care what anyone else thought of her. I then read The Secret Seven series, which made me desperate to be apart of a secret society.

I just loved Enid Blyton’s books – they held so much magic and mystery. And they fueled my reading addiction. “Too bad she was an awful mother” an adult said to me, one day in passing. What? I was probably about ten when I found out that Enid Blyton’s daughter Imogen Smallwood had written an memoir about her life, in particular, growing up with Enid Blyton as her mother. In this memoir she states, “The truth is, Enid Blyton was arrogant, insecure, pretentious”. This completely crushed my illusion that Blyton’s books were just a reflection of the lovely, cozy, exciting life she led. I asked my mother: “but how could someone so horrible write such lovely stories?” For years my tiny child’s brain grappled with this question, and from then on her books were a little bit tainted.

As I grew older and began reading more, watching more films, choosing my own music, and appreciating art, I came to this realization: artists are assholes.

Ezra Pound hated the Jews
Roman Polanski is a pedophile and a rapist
Picasso was a misogynist
Bret Easton Ellis regularly showcases how much of a jerk he is on twitter
Ayn Rand was homophobic
And countless artists/poets/writers/filmmakers were alcoholics and adulterers.

There is no escape from the plight of the asshole artist. It seems like that with every new author I read, they did something horrible. Especially in the age of the internet where information can be so widely shared. Everyone has their secrets – but fame and the web have brought them to light.

Maybe it would be better if we didn’t know about the lives of these artists. It seems like a blessing that we know so little about Shakespeare’s life. It is possible that if we knew more, our enjoyment of his work would be tainted. Ignorance is bliss, right?

But how should I, as a reader, a viewer, be approaching these texts? These texts with their dark secrets, their history, texts that are blemished by their creators. Boycotting their work, and refusing to read or view it is near impossible. I usually encounter the work before finding out about the creator. Am I to blindfold myself in a world of image and text bombardment? Should I be merely disapproving of this work, meaning that with every turn my mind gives a piece of work a mental “tut-tut”. Or is there space and respect in society for me to remove the artist from the artwork? To separate the two. For the author to die, and for the reader to now hold the power. For me to love the art, but not the artist.

And so I go, to appreciate Picasso’s work; to read Enid Blyton and be charmed; and to watch Woody Allen movies guilt free.

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