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Attitudes About Artists.

February 25, 2010

So the other day, I saw this about Ewan McGreggor, Roman Polanski, and speaking out. I found the comments incredibly interesting. So Ethan (aforementioned Fiance) and I get into email discussion about this, in which I cheekily presented my position:  In general, I choose to think very highly of Polanski the filmmaker and very poorly of Polanski the molestor. Working out well for me so far.

Ethan correctly and seriously pointed out the fragility of this position. Why do we forgive artists for things we would not forgive others?

Before I knew it I got all psychologist on his ass:

There is the  question of, do you deny yourself pleasure (the experience of seeing a piece of work you are likely to respect) or do you stand up against something wrong? Then there is the question about whether or not boycotting something is an effective way of making your voice heard (it may be). And there is the perhaps even stranger/darker question–is there something about his personality that yields both the grotesque and the beautiful? Would he be as good of an artist without being a fucker? This last one I think is seriously flawed thinking.

On a much much much more innocuous level, this is what happened for me with Phillip Petite–he acted in a way that I though very unattractive and wrong and as a result I did not like his work (I admire it, but I don’t experience positive emotions about it). This happened a little with Pollack–it’s not like I don’t like his stuff, but I could never love it now that I have some idea of what he was like as a person. Same thing with Richard Serra, although I still really do love Richard Serra’s work, it’s just tainted a little. So now, Polanksi, someone who I SHOULD despise and whose work I should have zero interest in based on that principal. . . Well, either I didn’t like Petite or Pollack’s work enough to begin with–psychological literature on attitudes would say that their work was not personally relevant or important enough to me to defend liking it (no big loss in letting it go), and their crime was personally offensive/relevant/important enough to me to sway my attitude . In the case of Serra and Polanksi, I like their work enough that I do some mental gymnastics to retain the good and the bad. With Serra that’s easy (he’s tough to live with, oh well! His wife knew what she was getting into!). With Polanski it’s questionable. And what I’m really doing is avoiding any information that will make it too hard to continue to like his films or respect him as a director. Again, making this stance very very fragile.

When I find myself thinking this way about art, it makes me realize how much I love what I study. It’s fascinating to me how illogical and how emotional our thinking is as humans. And how social!! I mean, maybe it’s just more important to me to be someone who likes Richard Serra than it is to be someone who likes Jackson Pollack. I know we don’t like to think of our likes and dislikes as motivated by such things, but in my mind,  no matter how we come to them they are still preferences. They are no less valid for being complicated in their origins.

Whew. I got wrapped up in that one. Ethan didn’t write back. I think I scared him away. Now if I could only get as wrapped up in the paper I’m trying to get out the door.

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