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Tuesday, 29 March 2022


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Hi Mike,
Tricky question - I’ll have a crack, and happy to have other perspectives contradict mine. Personally, I think we need to separate the human from the deed - and not conflate the two - as well as not ignore or downplay one because of the other.
There - sittin on the fence ;~)
An incredible deed does not an incredible human make. Thinks sports-stars on-field vs off.

To make some gross generalisations, we’re dealing with human beings. Human’s are able to think, say and do things that are self-ish, to the benefit of oneself and at the harm of others, as well as to the benefit of others. Humans are inconsistent - do good deeds one day and have a brain fart the next and do something bad. See your point re Will Smith above.

Secondly, celebrities have their deeds, and how those deeds are viewed, amplified by various media (mainstream, social etc) for the benefit of varying interests (self-ish and otherwise). Think sports stars, musicians, actors, performers etc. The late Shane Warne comes to mind in this regard (Australian cricketer).

As another example, I recently found out about J R R Tolkien and his attitudes towards women. That doesn’t stop the pleasure I had reading The Hobbit or The Lord of The Rings as a child / teen a few decades ago. But now I view the author in a different light.

To take it a step further, I don’t think we should ignore the contribution of the late Michael Jackson to music because of the allegations that surrounded him. Nor should we ignore or downplay those allegations because of his contribution to music. We can’t remove Rolf Harris (convicted Australian entertainer) from the history books, even if we can take back awards & recognition etc.

Hope that is a useful contribution to the discussion. I’m looking forward to seeing what other’s have to say.

Dear Mike
I really don't think great art, or the winning of immense battles - conflicts or defining decisions in politics which have changed the course of our world have been taken by reasonable otherwise likeable people. It's just the way it is.


Someone (maybe Jimmy Kimmel) suggested a Comedy Central roast of Will Smith - hosted by Chris Rock.

In answer to your serious question. History always looks different from a distance. Woke ideas and cancel culture will determine what is good, or what is bad when the distance is convenient to the cause.

Art vs artist is a difficult question. You brought up Bill Cosby. I have a (very old) dubbed cassette tape of some Cosby comedy album, made for me by a good friend when we were in the fifth grade. I used to listen to it regularly. Setting aside the difficulty of actually playing a cassette in 2022, I'm not sure it would make me laugh in the same way (although the snow ball revenge story is still funny in my memory).

Actors are another good test case. My wife and I love to watch movies, but some awful folks (e.g., Kevin Spacey, Mel Gibson, Shia LaBeouf, etc) are in a lot of them. I am largely okay with appreciating the movie as a stand-alone piece of art, but my wife really struggles with it. Interestingly, she will watch a movie in which one of them kicks the bucket. So, I now have to preview movies to assure her that the (real life) bad guys get their (virtual) comeuppance.

“Is it okay to separate the art from the artist?”

When I simply enjoy the colors, shape and form, the artist does not exist. But when I put all the pieces together, their essence comes into play.

As hard as it to do, I think artists and their art need to be considered as distinct entities. I think art is derived from life experiences; love, hate, kindness, cruelty - all of it. Good art touches us because we can relate to it. Because it echoes our life experiences.

On separating art from artists: Just art? Terrible people contributed significantly to just about every aspect of what we call civilization while also doing horrible things. Perhaps the question is really: Do we believe in redemption?

On violence in movies: I ruin entire franchises for myself by trying to estimate how many people are violently killed in a typical installment.


Here is a piece which largely mirrors your own take on the slap.
I missed the whole thing. I was in front of the TV but was watching video of people digging out of the rubble in Ukraine.
frankly I haven't been in theater in years. I get most of my movie jones taken care of by TCM and Netflix.

This doesn't answer the question, but I believe it addresses a larger question. The "slap" has generated more commentary than the bombing of a maternity hospital in the Ukraine. The pity.

[I think that's partially because it can be talked about more easily. Consider what Hugh Kenner said, "art is whatever accedited critics can talk about with sufficient interest." (Again, I'm probably paraphrasing, because I don't have the gift of accurate recall for quotations.) True atrocities are much harder to process, especially if they're freighted with being a small part of much larger issues. In my 12-step group we've had a number of people talk about how Ukraine is triggering ancient early-childhood fears of nuclear war, for example. The issues can be too big, too personal, too attached to deep fears..."the slap" by contrast is manageable. I'm just thinking out loud. --Mike]

This is a tricky one and I definitely don't anything approaching an answer.

I think the truth is that most of the greats are people that you wouldn't to spend too much time with. Most of them are guilty at the very least of shoddy behaviour.

Then, you get have the law breakers like Eric Gill and Caravaggio. Incidentally, there is a debate going on in the UK as to whether Gill's statue outside BBC HQ should come down. One thing I want to mention is that Woody Allen has never been found guilty of anything (cue: easy joke about dull movies).

Skin the the game. Legislators can create laws for the rest of us because the majority of those laws have little affect on their lives. Thus no skin in the game. They essentially live on their own planet with a different set of rules. Hollywood and professional sports is much the same. The narcissism is nauseating and why I don't pay attention to any of it.

I rather hope we can separate creator from creation (in the arts) otherwise there is a lot of art we should never see. Knowing something of the artist or creator can inform our understanding but should not be the sole arbiter of it.

Two personal examples. I love the photography of Leni Riefenstahl and her ability to capture the essence of an event but I abhor the politics it was promoting. I use Gill Sans as my font of choice for aesthetic reasons but I abhor the sexual mores and beliefs of Gill. In both cases, the creator does not stop me loving their creations.

Art vs artist - Richard Wagner. A serious article on the subject:
Wagner's Anti-Semitism Still Matters

Somehow I have come to despise more a certain famous photographer who got caught out heavily "photoshopping" and posing, what everybody believed were slice of life "reportage" pictures. I cannot look at this guys work and take it or him seriously now.

I am not ever surprised that those highly driven and ambitious artists who have made it to the very top, are often not very pleasant people in their private lives.

Paul Gauguin's child brides have no connection with his pictures to me when I view them. A wonderful painting is a wonderful painting, period.

Can we separate art from the artist? We'd better or there won't be much art left to look at. Not many people get through life without doing a nasty thing or two to someone, it's all a question of how nasty. Caravaggio supposedly killed someone. In general that's bad, but whom did he kill and under what circumstances? Not sure how to determine that after all this time, especially when it happened in a time when justice wasn't exactly blind.

I think it's fair to ask what harm it does to view/enjoy art that was created by someone who was a creep. I hear tell that Wagner wasn't a nice guy. But if I didn't know a thing about him but enjoyed listening to his music, in what way would my listening harm anyone?

Picasso was not nice to some women, we're told, yet they seemed to flock to him, so maybe something else was going on that we don't know about. Maybe we didn't get the whole story. I've known a few separating/divorcing couples and have heard stories from both sides and I'm pretty sure I didn't hear unvarnished truth from any of them.

I've heard the details of Gaugain's life and he sounded like a cad. OTOH, he lived among Tahitians and married much younger women more than once but no one strung him up, did they? Was it normal for women to marry young in that culture? Maybe it was, I don't know. How young did women in Europe marry at the time? How unusual was it for men to marry much younger women in general back then?

I guess my point is that people make their minds up about things based on evidence and testimony that would not be considered adequate and it's not clear to me that it's even relevant.

Were any racists employed by the company that built your car?

If we were to summarily reject or banish all artwork created by artists who were 'bad' in one way or another, there probably wouldn't be very much art left for us to appreciate.

Artistic personality traits are quite often a means for the psyche to compensate for major personal defects, problems, trauma, failures or shortcomings.

Yes, the art stands on its own. All art is created by artists; all artists are human beings; and all human beings are flawed. If you had the knowledge you could identify something objectionable, possibly grossly so, in the life of any artist living or dead. In my opinion, that does not invalidate the worth of their art.

Replying to Mike's reply, "...Except if she's the one implicitly demanding that he do it."

That could also be true; however, unless the parties involved want to state an explicit position, we're left speculating.

But I think it's important not to take for granted the "Prince Charming" narrative as necessarily a good one. [Agreed. --MJ] I'm watching this from Québec, and here there's a different take on gender roles than in the American press.

Re: Imbroglio. Spot on observations.

Ah yes, the irony abounds all around. Supposedly, Chris didn't know she had Alopecia- but even I knew it, and I'm hardly the Hollywood fanboy and not even a
a big Will Smith fan. The throw away joke was pretty lame, not worthy of comedic genius Chris Rock (and I don't use the term lightly); but even if he did know,
it wasn't particularly mean or malevolent. I really think Will let his recent role as "protector" (which he elaborated on during his acceptance speech)overwhelm his real life that night as he panicked in how to react to his wife's discomfort (Jada needs to speak up as well). Actually, he was completely out of control when he was seated and yelling back- and completely 110% justified in his own mind at that moment. And yes, the irony of an institution that gives the depiction of physical love making an automatic X rating, but a standard issue R rating to an "action" flick depicting multiple instances of graphic torture, maiming and murder is indeed rich! Worse of all, this incident has indeed opened the door to future attacks on comedians and public speakers in general. Not good.

Final irony (and I'm sure I've missed some) Chris Rock actually produced a documentary on Black women's hair called... Good Hair!

As for separating art from artist- the sooner one learns to do that, the better. And that's not excusing the artist by any means, it's simply a life lesson in being able to distinguish fact from fiction, reality from art.

The saddest part for me was the tears rolling down Will Smiths face during his acceptance speech.

I felt that he was crying because he realised that he'd just destroyed his curated image. A lifes work. Up in smoke.

As for Chris Rock, he's just one more of the low brow lazy comics. Profanity, sex and negative angry attack jokes designed to separate people. Just indolent.

So...I've been watching a lot of videos by John Mearsheimer, the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, and who describes the foundation of his views on international relations and "politics" as that of "a realist". In his lectures about the current situation in Ukraine, while his views may not be popular "philosophically-speaking", I do find them to be accurate, however dismaying that thought proves to be. Another view that Mearsheimer holds is that "Might makes Right".

Mearsheimer frequently references a quote by Thucydides: “The strong do what they have to do and the weak accept what they have to accept.”

This quote seems relevant, Mike, not ony for the current international situation, but also for the artists you referenced: Gaugin, Grainger, Gill, Picasso, and apparently, Will Smith. Not popular, certainly not "the right thing" philosophically-speaking, but certainly, it seems, reality-based.

"There were and are many noble people. But they did not write Tristan nor Meistersinger."
Marcel Reich-Ranicki on why he was a fan of antisemite Richard Wagner

For me, a most important and enlightening discussion of personal and cultural ambivalence. Do we distinguish between the individual’s and/or the tribe’s accountability in light of the level of approbation the artist enjoys in the larger body/mind? Too big to fail.? Do we distinguish between the lens of individual freedom and that of consideration for the greater good. There are so many roads to ride when considering this question involving personal opinion and multiple philosophical and political ideologies. The man/woman separate from his art? I would be inclined to think that answers might best be found in the practice of sitting at the medicine wheel where all individuals opinions are weighed and given respectful consideration, a path which is suggested in this forum, as Mike has put the issue at the center of our attention.

I’m in agreement with the notion that Smith should not have acted as he did. I wasn’t even sure Rock’s joke was even meant as an insult, but civilized humans in a civilized setting should all behave in a civilized manner. Hitting someone when they’re not posing a physical threat to someone is a no-no.

That being said, I think the media attention - which I am now part of because of this post - is way out of proportion. This was just two rich guys (or maybe one) being stupid. The evening news tonight - three days later! - gave a disproportionate amount of time to this issue, considering what else of importance is going on. And frankly, who cares if the MPA imposes some “penalty” on Smith? Either movie makers will continue to hire him because audiences will pay to see the movies, or they won’t. A demerit from the teacher is not only meaningless but worth even less airtime than the original offense.

Yet, here we are.

As to the question of separating the artist from the art, it depends. It depends on how close in time, space and culture the transgressor and their transgression is. I haven’t watched a Woody Allen movie in years, although I used to really enjoy them. Bill Cosby’s comedy albums were a source of joy to me and my friends as teenagers; I can’t listen to them. Certain current musical artists - giants in my mind - have robbed me of some of the enjoyment I get from listening to their artistry due to they’re going out of their way to encourage people to skip getting vaxed. Picasso was a long time ago (to me), and he was never a favorite of mine. So I like his work about as much as I ever did.

So, it depends. I don’t have a good decision-making framework here.

Hang on Mike, I think there are several major wrong turns in this conversation. And nothing new about that, BTW.

Because we so much love to judge, we forget that one of humanity’s guiding principles, from *all* the great mainstream religions/philosophies, is to refrain from so doing. When we exercise such restraint, we end up in the following spaces:-

- when we condemn everything about a person due to past actions, we deny humanity the opportunity to reform. A former prisoner who has served her time, an appropriate punishment for her past action, should never get a job anywhere, for ever, should basically live in the gutter, and die, sooner the better. Feel better now? Read Les Miserables for a deeper understanding of this error.

- judge the action, if you must, but not the person. When they produce great art, these humans are deeply connecting with one of humanity’s highest functions, expressing it in a gifted and inspiring way, and sharing it with all. My thanks and gratitude go to them. They often suffer and sacrifice a lot of life’s hedonistic pursuits to get their work done. When some of these same people turn from their art to their social/community/family life and make very poor choices, yes those behaviours deserve criticism, correction, appropriate penalty and, if you wish, judgement as actions, yet the person behind them is complex and imperfect like all. Our wish to *personify evil* and project it onto (usually very distant) people is understood to be nothing more than a way to exorcise our own demons, and distance ourselves from them. That is all that is happening here, when we condemn entire beings for specific individual actions.

- combining the above, it is easy to appreciate and be grateful for great art by necessarily imperfect people.

Closing note: I am under no illusion that the Hollywood Entertainment Kingmaking Money Machine is putting great art and artists front and centre in our lives, but the principles are the same.


PS not putting myself on a pedestal, though. When my two daughters gave me House of Cards on DVD as a gift, then shortly afterwards Spacey was outed by the MeToo movement, I couldn’t bring myself to watch it.

Mike wrote with regard to fewer people going to movies, " It could...Gallup said last January, "Movie attendance was...down among moviegoers. In 2021, those who attended a movie saw 3.6 films on average, compared with 6.9 in December 2007 and no fewer than 5.7 in any other Gallup survey," and The New York Times said last November 29th, "Nearly half of the prepandemic audience hasn't returned, research shows, and 8 percent may be gone forever."

Some of the loss of audience is likely caused by fewer new movies to see as well as the pandemic ...

In 2021, a total of 403 movies were released in the United States and Canada, up from 334 in the previous year – an annual increase of over 20 percent. Still, the 2021 figure amounts to only 51 percent of the 792 titles released in 2019, before the COVID-19 outbreak.

In addition, much of the movie business has and continues to move to streaming.

"We have a persistent problem with police flat-out murdering Black people." Before making such a statement maybe you should have checked U.S. crime statistics, they might surprise you. Also, since you included a link to make your case, I am returning the favor and include a link for some balance in the discussion: https://www.city-journal.org/repudiate-the-anti-police-narrative

Mike, I can’t argue with you that a large swath of America is, sadly, racist. But I have a simple question for you. Do you believe that Eric Garner or George Floyd would be dead if they peacefully complied instead of resisting? I’m not making excuses. The officer who knelt on his neck is a murderer. But if they did not fight and went peacefully, as I know I would do and I know you would do, they would be alive today.

[I'll answer, since I brought it up, although I usually don't let "issues" exchanges to get going in the Comments. I'd say, most police officers are conscientious and competent. They deal with resisters all day and all night. I would say you're underselling the ability of competent officers if you think it's a necessary condition of being detained for the detainees to calmly submit; it's also pie in the sky, because obviously that's never going to happen. For one thing, some suspects are not in their right minds while being detained. That's not a pass to take their lives. Rather, it's just another difficult situation (among many) which officers are trained to deal with. --Mike]

Orwell has an essay on this exact subject


This sentiment is woven into many of the comments above: many people who do good in the world, be they artists, scientists, physicians, clergy, businesspeople, lawyers, skilled tradespeople, etc. also do bad things regularly, particularly in the personal sphere. Sometimes the evil deeds that they commit are evil or frequent enough for many or even most others to put them in the "bad people" category. The judgment on most people will be less clear cut. This dichotomy seems to be baked into the species. Knowing that an artist is cruel to his or her spouse, children or others may taint the art in your mind, but in my opinion, if the art is good, knowledge of the artist's personal qualities should not wholly negate the art.

I do not watch these awards but I have now seen the incident on the internet. Watching Will Smith mouthing off when back in his chair, I think he makes himself look an even bigger fool. If he had worn a "wife-beater" tee shirt it would have completed the image.
I think you are correct when you say it will be his most remembered moment.

Imbroglio: Will Smith went from laughing at the joke, to violence, to smirking after the assault, to crying real tears…all in the span of a few minutes. I just assumed he was off his meds. Smith spoke about some past mental health issues at the end of last year and he was under a lot of pressure on that night. If Smith does have mental health issues that are known within his circle, it would help explain in part why Chris Rock was so understanding. I must admit though that I thought it was a planned bit at first. Chris was wearing a microphone and the slap just didn’t sound right to me…and I didn’t see any marks on his face. I finally came to the conclusion that Chris reacted quick enough to a roundhouse, telegraphed slap to not take the full brunt of the blow.

Gauguin: I hate to admit it but knowing something horrible about a living artist does have an impact on me which is why historically I haven’t delved into the personal lives of the musicians and artists whose work I value. Sometimes it seems that if I were to exclude every artist whose addiction or personality disorder made them act horribly to friends and family I’d be left listening to Teletubbies – The Album and admiring children’s finger paintings. I realize this sounds like I’m burying my head in the sand but art is important to me and I just don’t need more resentment in my life.

Copycats: Your mention of the possibility of assaults on comedians becoming an issue brought to mind a 2020 essay by David Brooks in the Atlantic called “America Is Having a Moral Convulsion”. In the article Brooks states that The Age of precarity is here. We seem to be in a state of flux where anything can happen.

A few thoughts.

The Pyramids were not built with slave labour. https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/who-built-the-egyptian-pyramids-not-slaves https://www.harvardmagazine.com/2003/07/who-built-the-pyramids-html

Siddhartha Gautama left his wife and young son, never to return as he sought enlightenment. He then became the Buddah once he attained enlightenment. But him leaving his family makes him look like a deadbeat dad.

In the week that this slap incident happened Congress did not renew funds that made school meals free. "Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, opposed extending the waivers as part of the omnibus package, arguing that the waiver was never meant to be permanent and that the $11 billion price tag to extend it for another year wasn’t palatable to Republicans concerned about the deficit increasing." Childhood malnutrition is a terrble problem in the USA and for millions of kids this is the only meal they would get. Weirdly this got little press but the slap does?


A former President this week asked the dictator of Russia for dirt on the son of President Biden. So He Who I Will Not Name asked a favour from a monster who invaded a country, caused the deaths of thousands and committed war atrocities. The GOP basically said nothing and his minions still say that he was sent by God to save us.

The best piece I've seen on this subject was written by Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who is not only a talented player but also an eloquent commentator.


It seems we are all drawn to learning more about the artists whose work we admire, and therein lies the rub. As a young man, I learned that my appreciation of music could be profoundly impacted by what I learned of the artists. I didn't like that. I felt the work should stand on its own merits and not the reputation - positive or negative - of the artist. Or my interpretation of that reputation.
As I matured and my artistic interests broadened, I have continued to struggle with the difficulties of appreciating the work as separate from the artist. A perfect world for me might revolve around appreciating art without knowledge of the artist but that is either impractical or impossible. We need to be able to catalog works and seek out works similar to those we enjoy. Nevertheless, I have no interest in an artist's personal life. None.
I suppose some would argue that art (or at least some art) needs the context that knowledge of the artist provides, but that doesn't interest me. I prefer photographs or paintings or books that stand on their own merits.

I have not gone to a cinema since Thunderball came out; nothing against 007, of course, just that the movies play an ever decreasing rôle in my life: I'm more into living my own life than the vicarious trip. I can watch movies online or via the satellite subscription, but I hardly ever bother.

I do not enjoy horror movies, get no kick out of celluloid sex and hate pornography for the damage that it did to glamour photography, conflating the two in the public mind when, in truth, there is no connection between them, at least, never in any photography that I was paid to produce.

Sport and its heroes leave me stone cold; music thrills me, and perhaps more so than than it does other people because I have no musical skills of my own at all.

Sadism is another aspect of life that turns me right off. From this little moment of introspection, it becomes quite clear to me why movies have ceased to hold anything for me.

Regrading the Smith event: I was thinking that for a man somewhat past his youth, he was bloody fast!

I don't like remarks based on peoples' incapacities; jokes about them are even more depressing. I think Smith did the right thing, but he should never have said sorry: that was an admission that he felt he might have made a mistake. I don't believe that he did.

My, how whited the sepulchres that have deserted your site; forget them.

Art transcends the individual, and art is mankind's highest expression, separated, and distinctly apart, from the rough and tumble realities of the artist's ordinary life. Even if the artist's art arises from his ordinary flawed existence, it should be judged on its own, distinct from the artist, as a gift from the unknown.

"And finally, the Academy saying, "We do not condone violence in any form." What?! Do they not go to the movies? Hollywood not condoning violence...now that's rich. Hollywood practically exists to condone violence. It could be mistaken for its very mission."- Mike Johnston

I'd just like to excerpt this passage and shine a bright light on it. It may be the most important idea among many in this essay. Mike is the only commentator I've seen who even mentioned this. It's an idea that's equally applicable to the Alec Baldwin tragedy. Why did they even have a gun? They were shooting a movie.

A majority of today's mainstream movies are unabashed celebrations of violence. The violence may be stylized or animated, or close up and personal. The victims may be stalked and hunted individually, or digitally multiplied until the final death toll is uncountable. Because violence and sells- it draws in young males who crave a thrill, and who hope the fear will draw their dates closer to their protective shoulders. Most importantly, it draws in the big profits from international audiences who wouldn't understand comic subtleties of idiom or custom in the English language, but who always understand a stiff right to the head.

I'll close with a famed movie line that reminds me of the implicit hypocricy and perfomrative cupidity surrounding the Oscars slap:

"Capt. Louis Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

Emil the Croupier: Your winnings, sir." - Casablanca

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