Art Appreciation and Moral Integrity

A friend posted on Facebook that after viewing a certain type of behavior on Twitter by an artist they liked, they were now hesitant to keep buying this person's work.  When pressed, I gathered that it was mostly political rantings and that this artist was being a jerk about it to their followers.  This sparked a debate I've had internally for quite some time:  Is your appreciation of an artist's work contingent on how you see them as a person?

More simply, if they are a jerk, would you support them artistically?

We posted back and forth amicably, both of us agreeing that this situation was muddy at best.  I also started the conversation with Tiger Lily, wanting her take.  My initial argument came in the form of movie actors.  I like certain actors and their performances despite the fact that I know in their, sadly labeled, private life, they are either hard to work with, horrible to their friends and family or have a belief system that does not agree with mine.  I'm not terribly religious myself, but I do have an arguably inappropriate distaste for some religions.

That said, my example was Tom Cruise.  He's a believer in Scientology and his exploits in the public eye are weird at best.  In fact, I recall vividly how disappointed I was to find out that Will Smith was also a believer of Scientology.  However, I like Tom Cruise as an actor.  I know he's not the best, but I don't remember a movie he was in where I thought he was the worst part.  I enjoy his character portrayals, albeit limited, and I think he's pleasing to watch.  You could argue the same for any actor in a similar situation now, that despite their personal lives, they may be a very entertaining actor.

You could say the same, also, for writers, directors, musicians and artists.  And living or dead, these artists have or had some belief system that impacted their work in any number of ways.  But what makes us either continue to like their work or stop being a patron?  What throws that switch that says we will not support this person's endeavors because of how we feel personally?  And is it absolute or a level of gradation?

A few examples arose during our discussion, and these are two outliers.  The area's in between are the reason for this discussion.

Chinatown is arguably one of the best films of the 20th century.  Critics have always given it a high mark and film makers cite it as a groundbreaking piece of film.  However, it was directed by an alleged child rapist named Roman Polanski.  The charges against him lingered until his arrest just a few years ago, and even after his release by the Swiss government public opinion of him was negative.  Yet despite who Polanski is and what he allegedly had done (I only say that because he was never convicted) I've never heard anyone say, "I've heard Chinatown is great, but I won't watch it because Polanski is a child rapist."

On the other side is the online video The Innocence of Muslims in which a noted Islam basher creates a trailer for a film (that may or may not be actually ever released) that intentionally creates a false world around the prophet Mohammand in what can only be seen as an attack against Islam.  Creatively, these two examples aren't even remotely similar, but that's not at issue here.  What is is your desire to see it.  Chinatown may be thought provoking, expertly made, and wildly entertaining, but you know who made it.  The Innocence may be all these things as well, but its story is basically telling lies and is told by someone who hates the characters and their real life followers.  So now do you have any problem not seeing this movie?  Why?

Why do we love Chris Brown before he hit Rhianna?  Why do we love T.S. Elliot despite him being a rabid anti-semite?  Picasso left a trail of broken women and yet his art sells for hundreds of millions.

So what's the dividing line?  At what point do we say to ourselves that our principles outweigh our desire to be pleased by art or music or the written word?  Are we not capable of separating the work for the worker, the art from the artist?

The original poster added that if he had a lawn guy that did great work but was later found to be a raging bigot, he'd find a new lawn guy.  It's a shift in art as work versus a trade, but the question still remains.  What about them do you find so offensive that you will not accept good craftsman ship and should that even matter?  Will you let a homophobic cashier check you out at a grocery store?  Would you let a racist dispense cash at a teller window, or fix your A/C or rotate your tires?

Tiger Lily also flipped it on me by asking what I would do if I found out someone didn't order a drawing from me because of my lifestyle.  Maybe someone doesn't like that I'm pro-gay and pro-choice and I live with lesbians while raising my kids and they in turn will not commission work from me.  My response was, that's their right to do so.  Yes I'd be hurt, but in the end, it's their loss more than mine.  They've missed out on having a unique piece of work done specifically for them.  Their lives are less rich culturally because of their personal beliefs.  So does that make them feel better about themselves because they've taken a stand?  My guess is that if they find a gay-bashing, pro-lifer who draws robots, they probably won't care a whit.