In one of my previous posts, “How To Avoid Plot Holes,” I discussed the importance of creating a work free from what I termed “plot holes.” Plot holes are the flaws found in a work of fiction where the writer has failed to catch inconsistencies in the plot. I contend that these discrepancies are jolting to readers, interrupting their ability to transcend reality and fully immerse themselves in the story.
Much as a pothole jars and disrupts one’s enjoyment of a pleasant drive, plot holes rattle and distract one’s enjoyment of a good read. What happens though when it isn’t the work that is flawed but the writer?
Does knowledge of the artist affect the perception of the art?
“Rosemary’s Baby” is a macabre story about the demons that not only exist outside of people but also within in them, inspiring selfish and horrible acts. The success of this brilliantly filmed psychological thriller is due in no small part to director Roman Polanski. Does your enjoyment of the movie change, however, when you learn that Polanski battled his own demons? Arrested for and plead guilty to statutory rape is testament not to the flaws of the film but to Polanski.
Chris Brown’s songs “Run It” and “Wall to Wall” are dated but still hold a good beat excellent for pounding out several miles on the treadmill. Do you pull the songs from your play list, however, when you learn that he hit his girlfriend? Like art itself the consideration is subjective and depends on the individual.
Many will deem Polanski and Brown’s actions abhorrent but will keep the songs on shuffle and still watch The Pianist, feeling the emotional beauty of the story despite the director’s personal actions.
I am often unfamiliar with the singer of songs or the directors of films—purposely. If I like what I hear, I listen. If I like what I see, I watch. In regard to literature, I usually choose to not look at the author photo or read the author bio. It’s not a rude disregard of the author but rather my desire to allow the work to maintain a life of its own. The characters can truly be alive in my mind when the reality of the person who created them is eliminated.
But can we separate the art from the artist? Moreover, should we?
Film, music, novels, and paintings—these are man-made creations, works of art shaped and formed by a person. And as we are all too well aware, people have foibles, flaws and problems. But do their imperfections, failings, and mistakes actually aid in the creation of their work? And conversely does the art help us to better understand them and their transgressions?
Dylan Thomas, Tennessee Williams, O. Henry—alcoholics. And those suffering from mental illness included Patricia Cornwell, Jack Kerouac and Edgar Allan Poe. These are just a few of the writers, who suffered disease, affliction, had failings and flaws and who also created brilliant, thought-provoking and remarkable pieces of work.
Graham Greene, author, playwright, and literary critic suffered from bipolar disorder. The disease had a profound effect on his writing, which he understood as is evidenced in a letter he wrote to his wife Vivien, telling her that “unfortunately, the disease is also one’s material.”
Another example is the painter Vincent Van Gogh who also suffered from mental illness. In fact, there are many who believe that the swirling lines of the sky in Van Gogh’s The Starry Night are a possible representation of his mental state. And much of this same shaken style is visible in all of his work during his time in an asylum.
Michael Jackson, an undeniable talent and a force in the music industry for four decades, was scrutinized when he was accused of child molestation. For some, the allegations cast a shadow over his music as many vilified him.
Jackson wrote a song entitled, “The Man in the Mirror.” The lyrics tell the story of how change starts with the individual in order to make a difference. Obviously Jackson understood, on some level, the importance and ramifications of one’s actions.
So as the watchers of film, the readers of books, the listeners of songs, we have to ask—does the man in the mirror matter?
Perhaps it hinges on your ability and willingness to separate the artist from the art. Or maybe it depends on your ability and willingness to accept that the reflection of a man will reflect in his work and that our knowledge of that will shape our perception.
Regardless of whether what we discover causes us to better understand the use of colors or prompts us to turn off the radio, the choice is ours.
Thanks for reading. I look forward to your comments.