Art Inquisition: Separation of Art and Artist
TW: sexual assault. (This is the part where I add some words to make sure the really awful ones don’t show up in the post preview. Here, watch this awesome non-sequitur video of Neil deGrasse Tyson dancing first. Go grab a snack or a comfortable pillow to punch.)
A few weeks ago, street artist David Choe (who I’d never heard of until this incident) may or may not have admitted on his podcast to sexually assaulting a massage therapist. Depends on whether you think he was telling a true story, or if it’s just his “version of reality, it’s art that sometimes offends people” (as he later claimed).
“I was like, “spit on it.” And she’s like “Uh, no, I don’t wanna do that.” And I was like “No, spit on my dick.” And she was like “No… this is crazy.” You know? And it’s like, she’s definitely like not into it, but she’s not stopping it, either.
… I take the back of her head, and I push it down on my dick, and she doesn’t do it. And I go “Open your mouth, open your mouth,” and she does it and then I start facef**king her.”
So either the story is made up and he lied about it being true, or the story is true and he’s lying about it being made up. Huh.
Upon reading about this (I couldn’t bring myself to listen to the audio), I developed an almost overwhelming rage combined with the desire to do something ridiculous like petition the White House to have Choe’s art removed. I’m usually pretty strongly in favor of not judging art based on the actions of its creator, though! So what gives?
I never understood the middle-school need to know your favorite lead singer’s middle name and favorite color. I don’t really care about the myriad addictions of an author unless it impacts my understanding of their writing. I acknowledge that I enjoy some pretty problematic things. I don’t want to know my heroes. So why did this get my ire up so badly?
So I thought I might consider other asshole artists. Because whoa nelly, there are plenty.
Muralist Diego Rivera (husband of Frida Kahlo) was, without question, a notorious womanizer with a violent temper. The degree to which you agree may depend on your views of fathering children outside one’s marriage, slicing your lover’s neck, and sleeping with your wife’s sister.
“If I ever loved a woman, the more I loved her, the more I wanted to hurt her,” Rivera once said. “Frida was only the most obvious victim of this disgusting trait.”
When I learned of his personal history, it had almost no impact on my view of his work, and I still worry that his murals at the Detroit Institute of Art will be negatively affected by the state of the city’s finances.
Roman Polanski continued to work successfully despite pleading guilty to the charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. In 1977. Then fleeing the country. I can’t even read about it without alternately freaking out and being filled with rage at his defenders, but I don’t do anything about it but avoid the subject. Maybe I’m just not that into film.
Odd Future is apparently so awful that they were denied entry to New Zealand for a scheduled performance at the Rapture festival in February. I’d never even heard too much about them, and yeah, Odd Future’s words do squick me out more than a little. But then, so does Eminem, and I’m incredibly conflicted about that guy.
And I think this is where things start diverting off into the art-becoming-life issue that may be the real question about Choe’s… whatever you want to call what he did. Is he awful, or is he telling awful stories? I mean, I don’t think Quentin Tarantino is off rampaging and murdering in the bloodiest ways possible in real life. I don’t think Vince Gilligan actually cooks meth. I don’t think Bram Stoker sucked blood.
And if we’re going to judge the work of artists based on their personal lives, it doesn’t end. Woody Allen. Chris Brown. R. Kelly. Michael Jackson. And that’s just a few, and only on the topic of questionable sexual relations. Hell, Matthew Broderick killed a woman and her daughter in a 1987 car accident and walked away with a $175 fine. People can be AWFUL, in bajillions of horrible ways that we can judge them for.
When I started looking up somewhat-comparative awful behavior for this post, I found a few somewhat thoughtful posts here and here and here. But I gotta admit that I kinda stopped looking at the internet for a while after Odd Future.
So what’s the difference? Why do I care differently about one or the other? Art cannot be created in a vacuum, or we wouldn’t give a crap. So why do we feel the need for artists whose work we like to also be like us?
What do you think? When can you separate the artist from their art, and when do an artist’s actions have actual impact on their work? Why are some people simply made more famous by their disturbing behavior? Where is the line between awful-equals-fame-without-repercussions and awful-equals-jail-time? Is it somehow “worse” when an artist is a contemporary, or is it simply that something could “be done” about a modern asshole whereas historical douchebaggery is literally in the past? Is it just that there’s only so much we can be outraged about before we shut down entirely and watch the world burn? Do we just teach ourselves to look at the bits we like and turn a blind eye to the horrible parts? And when does the horrible go from ignorable to outrage-inducing? How do we know when they mean it, and how do we tell when they’re just kidding or trying to turn our attention to an uncomfortable topic? And have the cops paid a visit to David Choe yet?
The Art Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. It appears on random days at 3pm ET…because NOBODY EXPECTS THE ARTIST INQUISITION!
Make with the comments!