They are two things that go together like cheesecake and horseradish, like stiletto heels and construction sites.
I am not so much concerned here with the occasional uproar about public funds being involved with art — I have been on both sides of that argument, depending on the robustness of the budget involved or the speciousness of the opposing viewpoint. (When I hear the word “installation” I reach for my gun, but on the other hand, you almost had to like anything that Jesse Helms hated.)
What is on my mind is the expectation, in some quarters, that an artist be politically correct and socially conscientious or stay on the porch. Awhile back there was a tempest in a teapot over Gerard Depardieu, a bit of whose performance in Danton I recently admired over at Zeus’ blog. Seemed that, as a young rough, he had witnessed rapes, or participated in them, no one could seem to agree what he had said, and feminists everywhere were up in arms demanding that people boycott his films. Having already decided, after Jean de Florette, that I would pay for a ticket to watch Depardieu read the phone book, I really did sit down and think this one over, and the thought I came up with eventually was “Why would you throw away the best a man has done, something done better than 99.9 percent of his fellow men could do it, for an uncertain idea of the worst he might have done?”
In the Eighties there was some similar huffery about Beethoven symphonies epitomizing male violence or some such claptrap, and then just recently — setting off this rumination — a literature professor I encounter occasionally, a poet herself, commented that she ceased to read the work of Robertson Davies, one of the wittiest novelists and belles-lettrists of the 20th century, because she had become aware that he liked to chase a skirt.
This, I reflected after we parted, is why I did not go on to become an academic in some literature department (I would have been a big fat pain in the Dean’s ass anyway, doing squat thrusts in the department hallway and making inattentive students run bleachers).
If art is worth a damn you love it helplessly. C.S. Lewis’ pronatalism and preachiness repels me but I cannot ever outgrow my joy in his childrens’ stories, nor in his spot-on portraits of human foibles. I can’t even stop listening to Jimmy Buffett in the car — only in the car, it’s just a thing I have — even though I damn near puked over the side to read the first few pages of his memoirs, opening with an episode where he called his therapist three time zones away after the trauma of nearly wiping out in his private plane (break my heart, will you?). John Buchan has my loyalty forever, jingoism and all. And I can just imagine what I would say, most days, about a man who fathered twenty-one children, but — Johann Sebastian Bach. (You wonder, had he not had all those mouths to feed, whether we would have so many partitas and chorales. This is what experimental science calls an “irreproducible result.”)
People are imperfect. What a concept.