Where do we draw the line between
Art and the Artist?
By Kevin Moore | 10.17.18
Balthus *with added fig leaf
few months ago I came across an interesting Facebook post about a hanging in the Met. The article was discussing whether or not the painting should be taken down because the subject is a pre-pubescent girl in a sexually provocative pose. The person who posted the article is a friend, so, I checked the comments.
I was a little shocked to find a bunch of outraged artists complaining about censorship (in general, I have found artists to be some of the least open minded people on Earth, but that's a different article).
Actual Facebook argument.
Not one person on this rather deep post thought the painting should be taken down, except of course, me (eventually a couple people sheepishly “liked” a few of my comments, so I can assume we agreed). I argued for two days with complete strangers about the topic of pedophelia. To narrow down my argument, I thought that the painting, done from life with the little girl posing for this older man, was a visual record of his pedophelia, put on display, and has no place in our current society. Everyone pretty much disagreed with me, citing censorship (I guess I was not aware that censorship is worse than child pornography but, oh well).
I was told we need to appreciate the painting and separate it from the artist's personal life.
There was even a former student of mine trying to argue that the little girl was the one in power, that she was “comfortable in her own sexuality”, which of course I find concerning because I am the parent of a child and he is not. No 10-12 year old girl is in charge of her sexuality, that is a disgusting idea. Like most online discussions, this one devolved rather quickly into name calling. People were really upset that I thought the painting should come down, but that’s okay, I stand by my belief. I moved on with my life, that is, until about a week ago.
I try very hard to stay away from Facebook discussions because they are generally pointless and give me anxiety, but last week, I saw a few posts about banning In N Out burger because the CEO donated $25,000 to the RNC. A few of the people that were arguing against me in favor of child porn (oops, I mean arguing against censorship) posted the memes.
What????? This did not sit well with me, something felt off.
Lets get this straight;
According to these artists, a painting depicting child porn should not be taken down off the walls of a public Museum, but we should collectively stop eating at In N Out because
the CEO is a Republican? Did I get that right?
In the first scenario, the idea is that we need to separate the person from the art. Balthus was an accused pedophile, but I admit, as a painter, he is really, really good, (in fact, if Balthus was a fast food restaurant, he would be a step up from McDonald’s, he would be, I don’t know, maybe more like In N Out Burger. I mean real quality.)
In the second scenario, we are supposed to punish the CEO because we don’t agree with his politics? So here, we are NOT supposed to separate the person ( the CEO ), from the art ?( trust me, the burgers at In N Out are definitely art ). Did I get this correct?
Listen, I get it, everyone has to draw the line somewhere, and this got me thinking about the relationship between art and the artist. Can we, or should we, separate the two? There are so many examples throughout our culture that it would be impossible to list them all. Should we not watch golf because Tiger Woods slept with a bunch of waitresses? Should we boycott the NFL because players kneel for the anthem? Should we stop listening to Michael Jackson?
Is it okay to still watch the Cosby show? Caravaggio was a murderer, should we take his paintings off the walls? If we follow this logic to its entirety, we are pretty much screwed. It means I can’t use this Apple computer to type this article on this website because Apple uses sweat shops and I am pretty certain the CEO of WIX has done something in his past some of us would not agree with. Basically we couldn’t eat anywhere, watch anything, or wear any clothing. So where do we draw the line as a culture? I recently saw videos of people burning Nike apparel because they detest Colin Kaepernick... This seems to have gotten out of hand.
My girlfriend loves Woody Allen, (I think if there were ever a scenario where she was forced to save one of our lives and let the other die a horrible death, I'm dead, she won’t admit this, but we both secretly know its true). She knows more about Woody Allen than Balthus knows about pre-pubescent girls (ouch!). She has been a huge fan of his since the age of 12 and has seen every one of his 47 movies (more than once). She is very aware of his reputation, yet she chooses to watch his films anyway because she is such a big fan of his work. While Woody Allen has never been arrested for pedophelia (he was thoroughly investigated and never charged), he has been accused of it (and also married his pseudo step daughter, so that's weird).
I recently watched a wonderful film, directed by Roman Polanski, it was beautifully shot and I genuinely enjoyed the dialogue and story. He is a and I felt somewhat hypocritical for my tough stance on Balthus after watching it. The question remains, how do we separate some artists from their work, and not others? Should we starve ourselves from art, culture, and In N Out Burger because we don’t agree with the personal lives of the artists? The burgers at In N Out are not Republican, they are just delicious, just like the Polanski film was not a film about statutory rape, it was about neurotic parents. Does buying a burger at In N Out mean you indirectly support th RNC, or watching a Polanski film mean you endorse rape? My answer is "no", and this is where the Balthus painting becomes
I see the Balthus piece as being different because it represents a visual record of his pedophelia. We know that it was painted from life, over the course of many different sessions. The little girl posed before him, legs wide open. It would be the equivalent of Bill Cosby making a television show about raping the women he raped in real life, or O.J. writing a book about . Most of us would have to draw the line on that, yet, this is precisely what we are being presented with in Balthus. He is saying, "Look at this young girls pubic area" because it is the focal point of the painting. It would be bad enough if he painted this from a photographic reference, but he examined her body from life, and is throwing it in our faces as we in the art community defend him under the guise of "censorship"
The sexual objectification of women in visual art throughout history is bad enough, we don’t need to add innocent children to the list. If the painting he made was a photograph, it would be considered child pornography, lets stop creating a double standard for painting and hold artists accountable for the content of their work instead of selectively punishing them for their personal lives. When the criminal behavior of the artist or entertainer becomes the art itself, thats where I draw the line. Just something to consider next time you are hungry and want to go grab a burger, animal style of course.