Rita's POV on Art vs Artist: Should We Judge a Person's Work Through the Lens of Their Character Flaws and Bad Behavior?

Rita's POV on Art vs Artist: Should We Judge a Person's Work Through the Lens of Their Character Flaws and Bad Behavior?

I've been getting a lot of questions about my position on the subject of Jim Morris's guest post sent out last week and that's fair. I didn't want to include it until I heard from you all and it was a lively series of comments indeed. In thinking this through, I got a little carried away given the complexity of the Art vs Artist debate. I hope you'll find it provocative as we all struggle with this tricky issue. Let me know what you think.

Many of you have asked my “stand” on this fraught issue. So here I am weighing in and wanting, really wanting, to purely say that the Art should be above the behavior of the Artist. But is that an absolute? I find censorship anathema and have always felt that people who reject the pleasure of Wagner’s music (or Cate Blanchett’s sublime performance in Blue Jasmine — it's worth it, Frank) are being way too rigid in a world that requires more flexibility. But then, does that very flexibility give permission beyond what our viewing or listening, or overall enjoying of the art, intends? Are we, God forbid, enabling?

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Art vs Artist: Should We Judge a Person’s Work Through the Lens of Their Character Flaws and Bad Behavior?

Art vs Artist: Should We Judge a Person’s Work Through the Lens of Their Character Flaws and Bad Behavior?

This month I’ve invited my first Guest Blogger, advertising veteran Jim Morris aka Tagline Jim (whose brilliant tagline for his own business is “long story, short”) to share his POV on a difficult subject. Jim is a radical thought leader in his industry, per his bio below. As an engaging and opinionated author, speaker, teacher and blogger, he often branches out into topics with ramifications for us all. His recent white paper on “Art Versus Artist” caught my eye as a subject that’s been around as long as Hitler and Wagner, and is as blazingly current as the behavior of Woody’s Allen’s actors. It’s a tough issue. Please read and weigh in, even if the answer remains “It depends.”

The question of whether we can separate the art from the artist has been much discussed for centuries. This current sexual harassment brouhaha that seems to preoccupy our news media compels us to visit, (or, for some of you, revisit) this question. Of course, character flaws and bad behavior extend far beyond sexual predation. They include, among other things, bigotry, various addictions and compulsions, non-sexual violent behavior like assault, mental torment and murder, as well as a host of other bad acts from embezzlement and thievery to bribery, plagiarism and combinations of deplorable behavior of which, one could argue, Hemingway and Picasso are prime examples.

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From ‘60s Civil Rights Activist To Today’s Boardrooms, Sheila Talton Champions Diversity To Power Progress

From ‘60s Civil Rights Activist To Today’s Boardrooms, Sheila Talton Champions Diversity To Power Progress

So here’s the famous story. Sheila Talton hired my public relations firm back in the early ’90s to represent her technology company. One day, she took me to lunch at Chicago’s famed University Club. There, in the glow of the glorious two-story, stained-glass windows gracing the sumptuous corporate dining room, a shared history was revealed.

It turns out we’d both been at the same school (Northern Illinois University), at the same time, and in the same massive student protest—she in one faction as a civil rights protestor yelling “Black Power,” and me in the other as a member of the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, shouting “Bring the Troops Home Now.” I’m sure you recognize the era.

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When Writer’s Retreats are Hard: There's More Than One Way to Skin a Muse

When Writer’s Retreats are Hard: There's More Than One Way to Skin a Muse

Process is not for the faint of heart. I’ve emerged from my latest residency without coherent pages in my hand—nothing tangible, nothing new to read on my last day where we shared what we’d been working on. My time there was all about process, and I feel scattered. Does thinking count? Did I waste three precious weeks or take a big step? It’s been making me ponder this question: how do you judge your own “productivity” when it comes to the creative arts? Is it the thickness of the manuscript in your hand, or the heaviness in your heart from the wrestling you’ve done to get it there?

I could always write at Ragdale

We often talk about “writer’s block” (I believe that comes just before The Crack-Up), and I’ve certainly had it in spades, but never at a residency. On the contrary, I’ve been to a variety of writer’s retreats over the past twelve years, primarily at the wonderful Ragdale in Lake Forest, Illinois. And it’s always been a great experience, miraculous actually. Ragdale is where I’ve written about 90% of my novel, The Fourteenth of September, most of the time in a delightful nook with a sloped ceiling and French doors named after one of the historic building’s original inhabitants, my “lucky” Sarah’s Room.

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