Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pondering Art and Character

The other night I was watching one of my favorite movies, The Five Heartbeats, which features Harold Nicholas of The Nicholas Brothers. Although the man was 70, he was still able to make some fancy footsteps in that movie. I was impressed as I am whenever I see footage of him and his brother, Fayard. But it left me wondering: can you admire a person's talent and/or work even though you deplore their person? How do you separate the art from the artist?

I don't exactly deplore Nicholas, but I think he seems like a shady character. He married Dorothy Dandridge and when she wouldn't give up the marital goods (because she couldn't), he threatened to leave. Then, he didn't want to deal with the mentally-challenged daughter they had together. That's shady. Although I understand that I only have Dandridge's side of the story, I forever have a bad taste in my mouth about him which, for me, makes it difficult to appreciate his work.

But is this right? I mean, the man could really move his feet! And along those same lines, how am I to feel about Miles Davis who was a musical genius but who liked to beat his women? And R. Kelly, who is certainly creative and talented (even if he wastes that creativity and talent in order to sell records), but who, let's be real, likes teenage girls? How can I like the artistry of these men when there is so much egregious negativity surrounding their character?

The other day on The View Elisabeth was--surprise surprise!--defending President Bush. She gave some regurgitated diatribe about how history will look more kindly on him as it did with President Lincoln. Anyway, she and Barbara went on to say how Bush is actually a very likable man. I've heard this before. I mention him because his case presents the opposite situation--a likable person whose work is shoddy/shady. But his case is an easier one to consider. Of course you can like a person and recognize that they are not skilled in a particular field or are not qualified for a particular job. But what I am asking is, what if they are the best at that job yet they are not skilled as a good person?

This conundrum has plagued me before. I have no answers and it bothers me because there are things I want to like, but I feel I can't because the person producing it gets all in the way.

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