Thursday Thoughts: Art Versus Artist

Thursday Thoughts: Art Versus Artist

This Thursday column is going to stray away from its usual purpose this week. And it could very well piss off some of you, too. I typically spend Thursdays sharing a cool website, book or resources of some kind that celebrates creativity and the imagination, whether it’s trying to ignite (or re-ignite) a spark or exploring self-expression. But I would like for this Thursday blog to be more than a product recommendation or site referral. I want to use this site also for honoring those who exemplify celebrating their creativity to the max as well as open a dialogue about self-expression, art and the parameters of art — whether you call them guidelines, rules or responsibilities. The first question being — are there any? That is, does art truly have rules?


Hmm, the rules of art. That depends on your definition of art, I suppose. But if we can agree that generally speaking, art is a demonstration of self-expression then wouldn’t there be no rules? Okay, maybe you shouldn’t break laws like kill or rob people to make your art but what you choose to spotlight, how you choose to create it and whether it fits traditional standards or your coloring travels faaaaaaaarrrrrrr outside the lines, shouldn’t that be up to the artist? The artist’s success commercially is certainly influenced by folks like you and me and if we like it or not and therefore, consume it or not. But artists don’t normally create based on what we like — they create based on what their imaginations dream up and what their hands can shape. And those who do create purely on the basis of what their thermometer tells them will be received favorably are marketers more than artists.


But what if an artist creates a legacy of art that is beloved and appreciated and only later, do we come to find out that perhaps there were activities this artist we so admired had participated in that we find morally offensive or maybe activities deemed criminal? Does that change the value of the art? Should it change the value of the art? Can we still appreciate the art even if we no longer appreciate the artist, and possibly loathe him or her now?


This is a scenario that quite a few of us have found ourselves in over these past several years. If you’re a fan of Bill Cosby the standup and laughed hysterically to the comedian’s “Chocolate Cake” song in BILL COSBY: HIMSELF, one of the best comedy specials you’re going to find… If you’re a Kevin Spacey fan, and have discovered the task of finding past “House of Cards” seasons and classic films like LA CONFIDENTIAL, AMERICAN BEAUTY and THE USUAL SUSPECTS, a  more difficult task than it used to be… If you enjoy the music of Michael Jackson (or R. Kelly), and you wince each time someone suggests banning their music from radio and music video channels that once played them all the time…  if any of these scenarios sound personally familiar to you, welcome to my world. I grew up loving that Cosby comedy special and watching “I Spy” reruns and “The Cosby Show” weekly, like the rest of America. Some of those Spacey films are all-time favorites of mine, and there was a time that Spacey was one of my favorite actors. I’ve been told that as a toddler, I would rock back and forth as I hobbled on my still unstable little feet in the car whenever a Jackson 5 tune filled the speakers and to this day, Off the Wall is still one of my favorite albums of all time.


Personally, I find each of these three men disgusting in how they abused the power they had earned over their years of success in their respective crafts and took advantage of people who often looked up to them and respected them (allegedly, yes, I have to type that or run the risk of getting sued).  I would not trust leaving someone I cared about in the same room with any of them. I would not want to know any of them.


Do I still laugh when I see segments of Cosby’s routine about the power of dad giving chocolate cake to the kids to score points? (“Dad is great… gave us some chocolate cake…) Absolutely.


Do I still find myself enthralled when I watch any of these Spacey film or TV roles? Totally.

Does Off the Wall still make me dance from my seat and sing along like I’m floating on cloud nine? Hell, yeah.

The art hasn’t lost its power for me. Maybe it doesn’t have the same luster, but I can differentiate between the art and the artist. Can you?


What I’m discovering is that many people choose not to look at it that way. Everyone is so focused on how to ‘get him’ that the idea of supporting a piece of art by someone who may have done something horrible or criminal is viewed as putting money into a fiend’s pocket. But do you really think we’re hurting Bill Cosby by not showing “The Cosby Show” reruns? The rest of the cast unable to receive their syndication residuals, absolutely, and that really doesn’t seem fair to me because they didn’t do anything wrong. But the show has a place in TV history for not only its ability to revive the family sitcom (and NBC!) but for single-handedly paving the way for other great classic family comedies to come over the next few decades, shows like “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The Bernie Mac Show,” “Modern Family,” and “Blackish.” And when you don’t allow TV fans to see the best shows, who is really losing out?


Do you think you’re punishing Kevin Spacey by not seeing THE USUAL SUSPECTS? This is a film that influenced many indie films after it, and if you’re a movie buff or student of film, not seeing it because of Spacey cheats only yourself.


Should we really not allow ourselves to groove to “Don’t Stop til You Get Enough” or “Rock with You” because we may remain uncertain about what was really happening at Neverland Ranch? The latest speculation that arrives courtesy of the new two-part documentary LEAVING NEVERLAND on HBO (which I reviewed earlier this week) has led many Michael Jackson fans to boycott HBO, choosing to remain completely oblivious to the similar stories of Jackson grooming young men and their families. On the flip side of the coin, you have a growing brigade of Jackson haters who also want radio stations all over the world to ban Michael Jackson music altogether – because that will solve everything.


Okay, so I am in no way taking sides with the late pop idol. But what I am saying is can’t we study the human being in one column and remove the art from the scrutiny?


When I think back to art in the first half of the twentieth century, I can think of so many examples of people whose work would never have held up because of their own doing. That is,  had they been in the age of social media platforms and expressing their personal views as well as the watchful eye of mobile phone cameras and TMZ lurking about. Let’s see, we had the actors and film directors (like Frank Capra, who has made some of my most beloved old films) selling people out during the great ‘commie hunt’ of the McCarthy era. And then there were the studio heads and actors who took advantage of young ingenues trying to make it further in the business with the infamous ‘couch auditions” — they make Harvey Weinstein seem tame— no, come to think of it, his own alleged activities (again, must say for legal protection) leave him in a sleazeball category all to himself. Then let’s not forget all of the famous actors and actresses who might incur the wrath and dismay of filmgoers and film buffs all these years later if they knew they were having affairs, drunk at all hours of the day or cavorting with well-known mafiosos, thugs or racists.


But should any of the work by these performers be punished because we choose to judge the artists based on their news coverage? I sometimes think that here in the United States, we can have difficulty in separating the art or artist from the person. Do you think it is a cultural inability here and that others across the globe — in Europe or Asia, for instance — can appreciate a work of art and not hold the work hostage by the flaws or in some cases, crimes of the artist behind it?


Weigh in on the subject. I’d like to hear your thoughts, too. There are no right or wrong answers in this debate, just your truths. For me, I think I can remain a fan of Spacey performances and films and continue to enjoy my favorite Michael Jackson music. It doesn’t mean that my mind won’t go to the subject of the artists’ legal history. But it feels unfair to the art itself to put it under the hot light of interrogation. And if I get a chance to see an old Cosby Show rerun or that comedy special that really resonated with me for so many years, I’m still going to watch it. Because I enjoy it for what it delivers — as a piece of art.




What do you think? I hope that you’ll feel comfortable to share your thoughts here or on the social media platform where you found this blog link. I welcome open conversation and debate as long as it is respectful.  As always, thanks for reading. ~ Chris K.





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