Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Art and/or Morality
The arguments put forward in the "for" and "against" Polanski camps remind me of the same arguments raised when Woody Allen was caught having an affair with his, then, step-adopted daughter Soon-Yi in 1992.
Allen's (it should be noted that he did not commit a crime and faced no charges) and Polanski's cases raise issues about art and morality. Often in Polanski's defense has someone commented on his talent and contribution to the world of film. The same defense was raised concerning Allen.
I remember listening to a call-in show on CBC radio just after the Allen scandal broke. The callers clearly were divided into two camps, fairly evenly split, as follows:
1) Artists are different from us mere mortals and, thus, should be forgiven their sins (or judged by a different standard).
2) Artists have no special relationship to the law, are not above it, and should be held up to the same moral and legal standards as everyone else. Period. No exceptions.
These two positions lead to further questions about what happens when it's concrete, and we are putting our dollars where our morals are.
Are art and the morality of the artist intertwined? Independent? Should one purchase or in any way support the work of someone who is deemed immoral? Or are we merely purchasing something not related to morality at all?
Do we know the moral qualities of all the people who own (and own stock in) the companies (plus all the people who work for them) whose products we purchase? Is not knowing an excuse for going ahead with a purchase? Is that really any different from buying a book or painting created by an individual of whom we disapprove?
Hitler's watercolours in Florence and going through a severe ambivalence because I liked the paintings but had a hard time reconciling that with who had painted them.
These are not easy questions. Jeffrey Toobin does a good job of showing how they play out in the life, crimes and sentencing of Roman Polanski.
(Both paintings shown in this post are by Adolph Hitler.)