Monday, February 12, 2018

The F Word: Good art, bad artists

Posted By on Mon, Feb 12, 2018 at 3:55 PM

The F Word. An online column for me to pontificate, ruminate, placate, and salivate. We’ll have reviews and previews, we’ll discuss trends in local and national music scenes, and we’ll try to do it as reverently as possible. Yup. Let’s get started.

There’s a menagerie of despicable people roaming the Earth today. Sexual predators are in our midst and are being uncovered for their pasts — men with closets full of skeletons are now deservedly coming to face the music.

It’s playing out across America, and heads are rolling, not just because what they did was an abuse of power and trust, but in the fact that we as a society (especially us, men) have ignored it for far too long. As allegations are rolled out, we’re making up for lost time with righteous anger, shame, and a profound sense of disappointment.

But as we address these revelations, an interesting (probably unanswerable) question is raised: In the creative fields, how do we react to an accused person’s past art?

Are we supporting bad behavior when we consume an abuser's music, film, or theater, or does art stand over and above those who created it?

I grew up listening to Bill Cosby; I collected his records. He’s now a pariah, and his career, all his philanthropy, has been called into question. But should his comedy be shunned as well?

Look back to the not-so-distant dark ages and the artists that made major contributions to their fields but crossed the line morally. David Bowie and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page both had relationships with 14-year-old girls, but in the grand scheme of things, society largely considers them musical legends and they haven't lost their lofty position in the courts and the court of public opinion. William Burroughs was a junkie who killed his wife. Is his writing less relevant? Go ahead and Google Frank Sinatra and the FBI. The Feds had a 1,300 page case file on the singer. And don’t even get me started on Woody Allen.

There is no bad art, some might say, just bad artists — people who suck as human beings. But it could be said there’s no telling what art and music would become if left strictly in the hands of the sanitized, the vanilla, the good. We shouldn’t encourage bad behavior for the sake of art; I just don’t know if good is up to the job alone.

That leads back to the unanswerable question: Does the artist’s art get a pass? Can we in good conscience still enjoy it?

Chime in. Let's have a conversation. What do you think?

By the way

Congrats, attaboys, and hearty back slaps to Rochester’s Joywave. The band performed its song “Doubt” from the album “Content” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last week. The band also released a music video for the song.

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