Will You Love The Art Of Artists Who Do Terrible Things?

By Bob Morshidi

It’s been a long week. As of time of writing, we know who is going to be the President, but Trump refuses to concede the election. It has of course overshadowed everything in my view, to the point I have no idea what the new Malaysian Budget 2021 looks like (all I know is that it’s a huge one).

One of the other news stories that would usually hit the world consciousness in a big way during normal weeks is the death of beloved Scottish actor, Sir Sean Connery.

The timeless classy look of Sean Connery.

I could write paragraphs of platitudes concerning Sir Sean. His unashamed insistence of playing every role with his Scottish accent, essentially making every character he has ever played, Scottish, or how he made the role of James Bond his own.

However, Connery was known to be somewhat of a terrible person to the ladies. He has been known to abuse his ex-wives, and has openly admitted that “there is nothing in hitting a woman, though I don’t recommend you hit it the same way you hit a man”.

Connery’s movies and performances will always be loved. The question is, are we supposed to love the works of a monster? Or do we separate the paintings from the painter? Let’s go through some controversial artists and their works that make this question complicated.

Mel Gibson

An Australian action star-turned, Mel Gibson was an A-lister if there was one. He became a successful movie director, and his movies are breathtaking.

The Monstrosity

Gibson is a well-known Anti-Semite, homophobe, racist (ironic seeing as his name was made because of an interracial series of movies: Lethal Weapon) and has been charged with domestic violence. He has been blacklisted from Hollywood a few times, but somehow always finds his way back. As a person, I would never want to know Mel Gibson.

His masterpiece

Hacksaw Ridge.

Ask me any day to watch Hacksaw Ridge with you and I’d happily say yes. – Pic courtesy of Lionsgate

If you haven’t seen it, the film focuses on the World War II experiences of Desmond Doss, an American pacifist combat medic who, as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, refused to carry or use a weapon or firearm of any kind. It is based on a true story and I argue it is one of the greatest movies of this past decade. Gibson is a particularly good director and it’s obvious the cast trusts his direction, as their performances are top notch.

J.K. Rowling

The famous Harry Potter trio from the movies. Movies that shaped the love of reading for millions of young people. – Pic courtesy of Warner Brothers

If you told me ten years ago that I would add Rowling into this list, I’d tell you to get your head checked. She was the author of a book series that inspired millions of people to read and write, and I make yearly visits to the Harry Potter world with her books. She was the first billionaire who got downgraded into being a hundred-millionaire because of her charitable work. She was the queen of the nerds. She was our Khaleesi.

The Monstrosity

Just like Khaleesi at the end of Game of Thrones, Rowling now does more harm than good. She is what millennials term as a “TERF”: Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. She believes that women need equality, but a view of her Twitter has promoted a lot of things that lead to harm towards the Transgender community. There are some of you who read this and think this is no big deal. For me, I was brought up with the ideals that even though people are different, doesn’t mean who should do them harm. Rowling, it seems, does not believe in that when it comes to Transgendered people.

The Art

Harry Potter is essential reading for anyone and everyone. It has wonderful world-building, dialogue and story. Characters grow with the reader and ironically, it’s a morality about inclusiveness is wonderful.

Roman Polanski

A Polish-French auteur considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.

The Monstrosity

The man is a rapist. In 1977 he was arrested for the sexual assault of a 13-year old girl. He was indicted on six counts of criminal behavior, including rape. He ran away to London, and then France the day before his sentencing (This was a time where sneaking out of a country is so much easier than it is now). As a French citizen he was given safe refuge and the Americans couldn’t extradite him.

The Art

He’s continued to create amazing movies in exile, even as a fugitive. He’s still making movies to this day and won awards as recently as February 2020. I would say that his masterpiece is The Pianist, a movie so good I’ve watched it more than 20 times. The Pianist is another of those ‘must-see’ movies for any aspiring filmmaker.

Adrien Brody and Roman Polanski is every producers dream filmmaking duo. – Pic courtesy of Canal+

Death to the author? Yay or nay?

When it comes to this topic, there are generally a few options we can choose.

  • Ignore everything.
    • Why should you care right? These people have nothing to do with you. So what? Ignore the things they did and just enjoy the art.
  • Cancel the art.
    • Boycott everything connected to the art. Stop reading Harry Potter, watching The Pianist and Hacksaw Ridge. You can make them not exist in your world. If you go to Universal Studios, do not visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This is easier said than done.
  • Separate the art from the artist.
    • You can say George W. Bush is a war criminal but appreciate his paintings. Even me, someone who doesn’t understand paintings, can appreciate that Bush does have some talent as a painter. You can continue buying Harry Potter books, and The Pianist DVDs. You can argue that you’re giving money to publishers, editors, actors and musicians, and the monster only gets a pittance of that.
  • Separate the art from the monster and give money to the monster’s victims.
    • This is what I try to do. I didn’t watch Hacksaw Ridge in cinemas even though I really wanted to. Instead, when the DVD came out, I downloaded it illegally, and I donated money to a woman’s shelter anonymously, in equal amount to the price of a movie ticket. You could argue I’m taking money away from Andrew Garfield and hundreds of people working on the movie, but I lose no sleep over giving money to a charitable cause, especially since it might go to women who got abused the way Mel Gibson abused his victims.

Conclusion

Look, this is a tough topic. There is no right answer to how we handle the monsters we used to look up to. I argue that the best thing we can do is take the good morals in their art and reject the horrible things they do in real life. How you do that, is up to you.

About the writer: Bob Morshidi is a drama teacher, freelance writer and satirist with a love for absurd comedy, popular culture and the lighter side of the seriousness of life. Follow his Instagram @bearmanwrites

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