Many people love films like "Love and Death" and "Annie Hall" by Woody Allen, and "Rosemary’s Baby" by Roman Polanski, as well as the music of Miles Davis.
As artists, these men have done remarkable work. Unfortunately, however, they have done or said terrible things in their personal lives. Is it possible to love the art and reject the artist?
Recently, Wisconsin Public Radio’s "BETA" spoke with author Claire Dederer about her book, "Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma," which examines this topic in detail.
Dederer looks at this idea of the "monster genius" to understand how we all deal with the problem of loving the art of men who do bad things.
"One idea I get at is how the notion of genius affects our experiences as audience members," she said. 'Do we use the concept of genius to give artists a pass? What does the genius get to do? What do we expect of the genius?'
On artists getting away with it
For example, Dederer talks about her love of the work of Woody Allen in the early '70s versus her revulsion of Allen’s 1979 film "Manhattan."
"In the 1970s, there was a dearth of culture and media compared to now. So, if you encountered something with an artist or a piece of art with which you could identify, you pounced on it," Dederer said. "Woody Allen punctures societal norms and plays the fool in the face of the adults around him. He's often in a situation where he has no power, or he perceives himself as having no power. I think there was a way in which I, like many people, identified with him in the context of his work. He presents himself as the underdog in his films. And that's something I think that people relate to."
But Dederer didn't feel that same connection to Allen in "Manhattan," a film that takes viewers through Allen's relationship with a 17-year-old girl and that treats her as "this innocent goddess" while mocking women of Allen's generation.
"It was so uncomfortable and painful to watch, both as a former kid, a former girl and as the mother of a teenage girl," Dederer said. "To me, it was almost unwatchable.”
On being the monster
Dederer said it is essential as a memoirist to turn the questions she examines on herself as a creator of art.
"As someone who has the experience as a memoirist and a critic of looking at things from this intensely subjective lens, I always ask, 'Well, what about my complicity? How have I participated in this? What have I done wrong in this situation?'" she said.
"Because if you are writing a memoir and don't ask those questions, you are writing a bad memoir. You're just standing on a soapbox yelling; you need to look at your complicity and behavior with a critical lens. And so, asking, 'Am I a monster?' became immediately part of the book. I'm calling and pointing my finger over there. But it also points back at me. What is it that's monstrous about me?"
In her book, Dederer relates to the idea of being a monster when she chooses her work over spending time with her children.
"This feeling of guilt about making art when I could be caring for children. That's not monstrous like the crimes we're talking about, such as sexual assault, racism, and saying horrible things," she said. "But there's a way in which I felt so guilty about it, and I perceived myself to be less of a mother when I chose to walk away and make art. So, I wanted to get at this feeling of guilt, of betrayal that came simply from doing work."
On loving the art
While many of us struggle with whether we can be monsters ourselves because of some of the unsavory things we might say or do, is one of those things loving the art of a person who is a bad actor?
Dederer gives us her insight on the matter: "I don't think choosing ethical consumption is ultimately meaningful. I think that capitalism wants to hold us in a role as consumers. And if we decide if we're going to be a good or bad consumer, all we're doing is continuing to fulfill this limited role within the larger picture of capital. And I think that's a false decision.
"Ultimately, whether or not you consume a piece of art doesn't make you a good or bad person. You're going to have to find some other way to accomplish that. So, you could look at that as me saying it's OK to consume the art. It's OK to love what you love."