I find that I’ve had to ask myself this question at least once a year since I was a kid and heard that Michael Jackson was accused of being inappropriate with children. I didn’t want it to be true but I experienced some dissonance on whether or not to listen to Infinite when it came out.
In the last decade, there have been numerous scandals featuring the likes of Chris Brown, Tim Lambesis, to the almost twenty-year outrage at R. Kelly, which has recently resurfaced. The question constantly gets brought up: can you, or should you separate the art from the artist? Let’s first look at some artists and their crimes/unsavoury acts.
Look at the life of Pablo. Pretty much everyone regards Picasso a genius and applauds his vision. However, his granddaughter Marina knew of a different Pablo, one who was incapable of showing love to his family and love interests. “He needed blood to sign each of his paintings: my father’s blood, my brother’s, my mother’s, my grandmother’s, and mine. He needed the blood of those who loved him.”
Françoise Gilot, the renowned artist and a former girlfriend who mothered two children with Picasso, remembered once when Picasso confessed that, “Nobody has any real importance to me.” She would later see that for herself when she and the children would be replaced and displaced by Picasso’s new interests.
Benvenuto Cellini, the celebrated Mannerist sculptor, was so beloved that he never faced punishment for his numerous murders, which he outlined in his memoir. Even when it seemed like he would face some punitive action, he had several cardinals vouch for him and he was pardoned.
The philosopher and writer Bertrand Russell wrote in Marriage and Morals (1929), “In extreme cases there can be little doubt of the superiority of one race to another… It seems on the whole fair to regard negroes as on the average inferior to white men.”
But perhaps Russell was just parroting a common viewpoint at the time, because only a few years later in Education and the Social Order (1932), he wrote that black people being inferior to white people was an “unwarranted assumption.”