Commentary – Subjugating Art With The Artist

In a recent discussion, I came across a an interesting dilemma that I’m sure many of you have encountered. On a blog I tend to frequent, someone mentioned that Robert Duvall is a Republican, and planning to vote for McCain. Immediately, there were cries by some that they would never watch a Robert Duvall film again, including greats like The Godfather. How sad, I thought.

Can one really sacrifice the experiencing of such great works simply on the basis of the artist, the artist’s personal life, political affiliation, mental or psychological issues, or what have you? Apparently to some, they are able to make the sacrifice.

Great examples are those who boycott Mel Gibson films because he’s expressed anti-semitic views and sentiments. Or boycotting Tom Cruise films because he’s a scientologist and doesn’t believe in psychology and medication.

I don’t agree with either of them, and I find anti-semitism downright disgusting. But let’s put things into perspective. Roman Polanski is a great example. Firstly, he’s a brilliant director, absolutely brilliant and deserving of the praise. But he’s also a pedophile. So, do I boycott his films, some of which are great pieces of art, because of his private life? Although part of me would like to stay neutral in this, I can’t. The answer is a flat-out “no”.

The issue here is the subjugation of art to the artist, and it flatly ignores the entire concept of art, whether it be film, literature, music, or a painting. To put it simply, if I subjugated the artist with his or her work, I would live a very sheltered life. I would never have read the great novels I’ve read, watched the great films I’ve watched, seen the great paintings I’ve seen, or listened to the great music I’ve listened to.

It is, of course, my choice and right to watch, read, see, listen, or not, to anything. But this issue is not so much with the choice as it is with the reasoning behind the choice. Not watching a film because of its subject matter can be quite reasonable at times. Certain films are extremely difficult to watch, though quite brilliant and heartbreaking, such as Paul Greengrass’ United 93. Others are simply disgusting, and don’t accomplish anything worthwhile, such as David DeFalco’s reductive and worthless Chaos.

But realize the distinction: choosing not to watch such films for their subject matter is not judging the personal aspects, or political, religious or otherwise of the people involved in making the film: writers, directors, actors. Such work should be judged for what it is, not for what the people responsible for producing it believe in their personal lives, and certainly independently of such personal beliefs.

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