Tonight I was able to visit Paul Gauguin: The Art of Invention at the Saint Louis Art Museum.
I’ve always been kind of indifferent when it comes to Gauguin’s work, but I was still anxious to see this exhibit.
I enjoyed seeing Gauguin’s work, although I learned more about his person than I cared to. In addition to being a pretentious douche who fathered five children and left his wife — he was also a syphilitic pedophile. He went on to live with three different young girls (ages 13, 14 and 14) and fathered children with them as well. He claimed to have eczema, but it was known he had syphilis. Which is a perfect thing to have when you are bedding children.
(Also got a few fun photos of St. Louis at the top of Art Hill for good measure.)
I wandered out of the exhibit in a slightly confused daze. His work was fine, I guess. But I really didn’t care. I was too grossed out and bewildered. Seriously, was no one else bothered by this guy’s bio??
But then I started thinking about other artists, actors, etc., whose lifestyles and characters are in question or even criminal. At what point do their actions negate any value their work brings to the table? Take Bill Cosby, for example. Do I hope they lock him up and throw away for the key for the rest of his natural life like the serial predator he is, leaving him penniless and powerless? Yup. Will I still watch The Cosby Show? As long as Rudy isn’t annoying, sure. How about Michael Jackson? Are his alleged actions in Neverland reprehensible and appalling? For sure. His music? Thriller is on my running playlist. Would I have a Gauguin print in my house — even one with flowers and funky cats? Not a chance.
But where do we draw the line? Clearly I haven’t defined mine. I seem to be able to compartmentalize the artist/performer from their work — until I can’t. But what’s the straw that breaks it for me? I honestly don’t know. It’s weird because I’m uncompromising about supporting or not supporting organizations or retail establishments based on their values — it doesn’t matter how good their products are. Even if I love what they offer, if their values run in opposition to mine or pose a threat to causes that matter to me, it’s a big, fat no, thank you. So why are the arts different? Is it wrong to admire or enjoy the music, art or performances of people who do bad things – like, really bad things – outside of their work? Is it wrong to shrug at one artist’s actions and walk away in outrage at another?
Per usual, I’m overthinking. But again, this is what I do and this is why I blog. And it’s never a bad thing to call a spade a spade — even if after some self-reflection, it means having to call yourself a bit of a hypocrite.