During an In My Humble Opinion (IMHO) segment of Public Broadcasting Service news (OPB), Amanda Petrusich, music critic for the New Yorker, spoke about the “outdated” notion that a work of art stands apart from the person who created it. The theory is long-standing and known as Art for Art’s sake. (Click)
“Outdated,” is a code word for ageism, I’ve found, a dismissive way for the young to reject the wisdom of their elders. Nonetheless, I sat up, interested in what this millennial had to say because I’d written three blogs defending the notion. (Click), (Click), (Click).
According to Petrusich, a work of art can’t be viewed independently from its creator because, “Art is the artist.” If the artist is a bad person, … “I am uncomfortable supporting [him or her] financially.”
Unless, the laws of logic have changed, I sense a flaw in her argument. If art is the artist and the artist is a bad person, then, by definition, his or her work must be bad. But Petrusich doesn’t go that far. She says she is “contextualizing,” or putting the artist and the work in a social milieu. Of course, critics do that all the time. Art for Art’s Sake is but one of a number of critical approaches. Others include, social, historical and psychological interpretations.
Petrusich seems to be confusing aesthetics with ethics. Hers in a moral question. Should bad people profit from their genius? That’s worth exploring, but, sensing a box, she sidesteps it. She opposes censorship, she assures us. Let the marketplace decide success or failure. “That is different from censorship. This is making a choice to be explicit about what we as listeners and consumers and fans will and will not accept.”
Of course, the marketplace makes that decision all the time, as Roseanne Barr well knows. (Click) Any coordinated effort, like a boycott, would be a form of censorship.
As to the central question, should an artist’s work be dismissed on the grounds of character, Petrusich seems to be blind to the consequences of an answer in the affirmative. Some of our greatest works would go missing. In painting, alone, the villains range from Caravaggio to Picasso and many geniuses in between. (Click) Imagine applying the same notion to scientists. Had Einstein beaten his wife, we would have been obliged to chuck out relativity.
Incensed by the behavior of two bad boys from the music world, XXXTentacion (Click) and R. Kelly (Click), Petrusich has backed herself into a wall. I’d love to help her out. Unfortunately, my opinions about what’s music and what isn’t, today, is definitely outdated.