Can You Separate the Art from the Sins of the Artist

I’m torn. Two of my favorite films are Woody Allen’s classics, Manhattan and Crimes and Misdemeanors. As a filmmaker I love the writing, the cinematography, editing, all the things that made Allen a worldclass filmmaker with a style all his own. However, as a devoted father and husband who takes seriously marriage vows and fidelity, I am disgusted by his relationship with Soon-Yi, the adopted daughter of his ex-long-time girlfriend Mia Farrow.

As a filmmaker (who happens to be Christian) I am also a fan of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart and Passion of the Christ. Two very powerful stories about redemption and sacrifice. (Although, honestly, I can take watching Passion maybe once every ten years.) But, I am deeply disappointed and frustrated at the personal demons in Mel’s life and how they affect his stance in the film industry, and the damage they do to his own personal testimony of faith.

Then this morning my wife tells me that while looking up information on singer/song-writer Alicia Keys, she learned that her current pregnancy with husband Swizz Beatz (yeah, I know) happened while he was still married to his previous wife Mashonda Tifrere (my people, my people! Why oh why do you name your children so!) Here’s a singer that we both respected and looked at as a great role model for young girls, only to be disappointed…again. (First Miley, now this).

So, is it possible to separate the artist from his or her sins? Can you love the films of Allen and Gibson, while at the same time abhor aspects of their lifestyle? Or does that make one a hypocrite? Is it still okay to jam to the beats of Keys, even though now when I hear them I’m haunted by images that she’s “the other woman” married to someone who given his record (this is his fourth child child-bearing relationship) may do it again.

I think that in the end, the answer has to be a resounding “yes” (but with caution.) It’s yes because, let’s be honest, if one was to avoid the art of any artist who did some terrible sin, well, you’d pretty much have to live in a box and not watch or listen to anything. We’ve all fallen short and I know I’m no saint. Who am I to judge the life of other artists. As long as the art in and of itself is not offensive to me, I’ll engage (especially if you can see the artist using that art to deal with their “demons” and provoke intriguing thought.) We must be allowed to offer grace, understanding and forgiveness where its warranted. But at the same time, we need to be wary of any messages that may be given in the artists’ art and the effect it may be having on us. (Is it a coincidence that Manhattan is about an older divorcee having a relationship with a high school girl?)

And if you’re a parent, I do think you need to step in and limit/manage/monitor what your children watch or listen to. Mainly because whereas YOU may be able to separate art from the artists, impressionable children haven’t usually developed that skill or reached that level of maturity. I can admire Gibson’s films and not be influenced by his lifestyle; however a teen girl may follow the careers of Miley, Britney, or Lady Ga-Ga and want to BE like them (dress, talk, and yes, even act). Until they reach adult age and leave the nest, it’s your job as parent to guide them in the ways you want them to live and be a contributor to society.

So, what’s your take on this topic? Do you separate the two? If so how? If not, why?

11 thoughts on “Can You Separate the Art from the Sins of the Artist

    1. You’re right Chase. Film is a very powerful tool for that. That’s actually why the shenanigans of Mr. Gibson hurts his cause. Because he IS so much in the public’s eye, whatever he does will have an effect on the power of his message. But’s it’s mainly because he has been so vocal about his faith that it hurts. If no one knew the wiser, it may be a differetn story. It’s like when church leaders fall. With great power comes great responsibility. If Peter Parker can see that, why can’t some of these leaders.đŸ™‚

  1. I have struggled with this ‘topic’ for some time. I wish that people blessed with stardom realized what an influence they are to so many and lived that way for the long haul. Acting careers stretch for decades for many; but unfortunately, the decisions made during that career/life aren’t always upright and worthy to share with the world. You won’t find a perfect life anywhere, we’re human. Yet, I just wish more celebrities took seriously how their personal lives are an example to other people, especially when their target audience are impressionable youth.

    We have kids and try to limit their exposure to much of the media culture out there. I know it is impossible to keep them hidden completely, nor is it fair to not expose them to talented artists/actors. Nonetheless, I am glad our kids have no idea the trouble Britney Spears or Lindsey Lohan can get themselves into. Or, the reasons innocent teeny boppers choose to adapt into sensual eye candy in order to sell records. One of the few that I can think of off hand who didn’t do this was Debbie Gibson. And, one of the best examples of our time that is in this transitional period is Miley Cyrus.

    The media circus famous people develop in their lives can either create a buzz to help them sell tickets/records, but it can also hurt them severely and end their careers (Gibson?). I think if they were making the best choices everyday (such as with drugs/alcohol/promiscuity which can severely impact people’s rationality), people would respect them more and admire them. We wouldn’t have to keep our children away from the TV all the time, worried about the content of programs/movies/commercials that may influence them negatively. Call me old fashioned, but we need to focus on innocence instead of sex and violence.

    I still watch and listen to the productions these people are a part of, depending on the ‘content or message.’ They are talented, otherwise, they wouldn’t sell millions of tickets/albums. Thankfully, just as they have personal choices everyday to make, we must make the choices we know are right, and consider those who may overhear or witness, especially our children.

  2. Great topic Ron. I remember watching “Ray” and grappling with this exact issue – his music was undeniably amazing, yet when you’re watching the movie, it’s hard to justify being a fan of someone who appears so sinful, whether it’s the drugs or his lack of faith to his wife and family. I sometimes wish I did not know about the personal lives of the artists I admire; it tends to belittle their art and once I know about the sins of an artist, it is hard to rid the knowledge from the subconscious.

    It’s a sad reality that the default of superstar artists is that they eventually walk on the dark side, and sometimes they never come back. When was the last biopic about an artist that did not end in the artists’ downfall?

    A solution would be to start a movement where we laud and praise those artists who can truly serve as a role model behind the scenes. Consider the Jonas Brothers who are known for their “wholesome family-friendly image” (from wikipedia), or Matisyahu, the Orthodox Jewish Reggae Hip-Hop artists who observes the Jewish laws while promoting peace and love in his music, such as the hit “One Day”.

  3. Hi Ron,

    First of all, I love those two films, too, although my favorite Woody Allen film is definitely “Hannah and Her Sisters”!

    It seems you have two topics going here: separating the artist and his/her lifestyle from the art they give us, and being a responsible parent when it comes to your how you monitor your childrens’ viewing and listening. I will focus on the first as I believe that is your focus as well, with parental discretion being something of a sidebar. Very well written post in any case.

    When it comes to artists and their lifestyle, it can indeed be a conundrum for the audience and fans. Often they are very separate entities.
    I actually crossed paths with Woody and Soon-yi in Manhattan and they seemed pretty happy, in a old fashioned married couple way, nothing elicit.
    For the record, the way Woody and Soon-yi got together might seem unsavory but ultimately they are in love for better or worse. Soon-yi is crazy about the guy. Who knew!

    Meanwhile, never mind Mel, that’s a whole other level of misbehavior, but as far as Woody goes, I enjoy his work without being affected by his past drama in any way. He’s a passionate writer and artist and that sometimes has created awkward situations for him and the people in his life. Understatement maybe!

    An interesting exception to this common dilemma is David Lynch. His films are incredibly creative and bizarre and uncompromising but, by all counts, he has lived a pretty normal, almost drama-free life! Probably not totally true but Lynch himself often talks about how he strives for a clear distinction between the work he creates and the life he lives.

    Best wishes, Ron!

    Peter

  4. Hi Ron, First of all, I love those two films, too, although my favorite Woody Allen film is definitely “Hannah and Her Sisters”! It seems you have two topics going here: separating the artist and his/her lifestyle from the art they give us, and being a responsible parent when it comes to your how you monitor your childrens’ viewing and listening. I will focus on the first as I believe that is your focus as well, with parental discretion being something of a sidebar. Very well written post in any case. When it comes to artists and their lifestyle, it can indeed be a conundrum for the audience and fans. Often they are very separate entities. I actually crossed paths with Woody and Soon-yi in Manhattan and they seemed pretty happy, in a old fashioned married couple way, nothing elicit. For the record, the way Woody and Soon-yi got together might seem unsavory but ultimately they are in love for better or worse. Soon-yi is crazy about the guy. Who knew! Meanwhile, never mind Mel, that’s a whole other level of misbehavior, but as far as Woody goes, I enjoy his work without being affected by his past drama in any way. He’s a passionate writer and artist and that sometimes has created awkward situations for him and the people in his life. Understatement maybe! An interesting exception to this common dilemma is David Lynch. His films are incredibly creative and bizarre and uncompromising but, by all counts, he has lived a pretty normal, almost drama-free life! Probably not totally true but Lynch himself often talks about how he strives for a clear distinction between the work he creates and the life he lives. Best wishes, Ron! Peter

  5. I don’t think it is a resounding “yes”. Each incident has to be taken on a case-by-case basis. Would you give a resounding “yes” if the song writer was Adolf Hitler? Life rarely occurs in Black and White. It usually resides in those gray areas.

    1. Hey Andrew, I hear what you’re saying (or rather, I read what you’re writing). But, as awful as it may sound, the answer is still “yes.” Even if Adolf Hitler wrote a song that some how was beautiful in and of it’s own right, it could be appreciated for the art it is. Now, I wouldn’t go out and promote that art if it in turn gave Hitler more positive exposure. But, that doesn’t take away from the beauty of that art. However, I think history has shown that people as evil and vile as Hitler will generally create art equally so.

      1. Just going to chime in here…Hitler was an artist, or at least had some aspirations of becoming one:
        http://www.bytwerk.com/gpa/hitlerpaintings.htm
        And a very twisted reading of history could have propaganda, politics, and the military as his medium.

        I had a conversation about this topic at a party not too long ago, but it also brought in politicians, CEOs, etc. I argued that it should matter, but I think I might’ve been more in the mood to argue the point, or maybe I wish it mattered more. I don’t think it does matter. We’ll all seriously flawed, nowhere near Hitler’s flaws though, and I think I agree with Andrew, with it all existing in a huge gray area with infinite shades between black and white. Each of us has our own scales to weigh between the art, and the offense.

  6. What would happen if we stopped watching/reading the news? I can honestly say that the only news I keep up with is with video stuff. Everything else is clutter and keeps me from focusing on what’s really important. I find it hard to even think about the gossip spread around about celebrities and other people. Gossip is a virus that breeds negativity. When I hear or read it(the local/national news for example since it’s like 99% negativity), it really makes me think negative thoughts and that’s why I avoid the news (as we all know, this is a great way to decrease productivity and life fulfillment… just what the guy with the horns and pitchfork wants us to focus on). I’m sure we are all guilty of thinking how someone could fix their problem or could have avoided it. What about my life? Where did I screw up? How can I overcome that and be a better person? How can I be the leader to my family/friends? Is the art I’m creating backed by good intentions?

    So I guess when it comes down to it, I know these celebrities might be having personal struggles (no matter how stupid or wrong we think they are doesn’t make us right)… but why let their personal journey in life be the reason we can’t enjoy good positive art? Maybe the answer lies within scripture?

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