Does Human Integrity Matter in Art?

I just read a fascinating article in the NY Times about Budd Schulberg, a writer with a stunning career of screen credits, the most famous being the classic, On The Waterfront (Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint).

During the Joseph McCarthy era of Communist witch hunting, Schulberg named names of his colleagues to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and to his dying day defended his behavior. Good people lost jobs, lost reputations. He literally destroyed families because of his testimony.

The question posed in this article is simple: Do we boycott good, even great art because the artist’s behavior falls below our standards of a “good” person?

I know Picasso was famous for being difficult, but did he destroy people’s lives?

I have a personal connection to this idea coming from my childhood days with…Henry Miller, the notorious writer who put pornography on the intellectual, literary map.

My parents were great friends of his, and I found myself at his dinner table more than once, where he would deliberately embarrass me to the point where I’d have to leave the table, or hide my shame with a knotted stomach, leaving dinner on my plate.

For years I refused to read a thing he wrote. Then I picked up my autographed copy of A Smile at the Foot of the Ladder, read it, and promptly dashed off to Pacific Palisades to visit him one last time before he died.

In this day, when Twitter and Facebook have revolutionized the personal a la professional relationships and connections, how does one go about disassociating who the person is from the work she/he is doing?

Read Randy Cohen’s Can You Hate the Artist but Love the Art, the come back here and let me know what you think.

7 Responses to “Does Human Integrity Matter in Art?”

  1. Sari Grove says:

    If anyone actually knows the insider story of the naming of names- the way they worked it was, no one named names that were not already on the list…It was a way for both sides to do what was asked, without allowing anyone actually to stick their neck out, one way or the other…The list was not created by ratfinks…Those that were called to testify did not give anyone up who was not on the list already…They did not even confirm anything…Budd Schulberg was not a bad guy, & most who know the story, know what it was like back then…Great artists are also greatly complex, & complexity is required to understand them…Each case mentioned in the article requires research & thought & often personal & intimate knowledge…I do think All of the artist is relevant to their practice, but I see judgments being rushed in against them, where angels might fear to tread…Picasso was a wonderful generous man- the womanizer negative side is what the press loves to play up…Henry Miller introduced pornography in a time when women didn’t even know that they could also have an orgasm- he may have done more for women’s rights than Germaine Greer…
    Writer’s so often sit alone to write press, I wonder if the negativity of media spin is spawned by that loneliness…Do we really know these great people? Or do we judge from afar based on the slanty bias of a malcontent author alone with a typewriter…(p.s. Elia Kazan also didn’t name any new names- the testimony was all “Arranged”…) p.s. written from a positive biased grain of salt…

  2. Ariane Goodwin says:

    Oh, Sari, what a thoughtful response. I don’t personally know any of these artists except Henry, and I can tell you that at the personal level he was capable of being a first class bully, along with buckets of charm.

    As for the “not naming names while naming names,” I don’t buy it. The ones who did this knew perfectly well that their testimony, no matter how arranged, was another nail in the coffin.

    And I’ve heard Bud interviewed. He sticks up for the entire episode as necessary to save America from the Red Threat – not his words, but definitely his perspective – and doesn’t give an inch for those who were wrongly maligned.

  3. Sari Grove says:

    So…two thoughts…at least…Shall we then name the namers & malign them? If we judge by that stick, then aren’t we just as guilty? Aren’t we then doing what Budd did then? Naming a list of people we think did a bad thing? Second thought…What if communism Is really bad?

  4. Sari Grove says:

    p.s. I should also fess up, my husband, Joseph Grove, is the history aficienado, not me…(He) Also an artist, when I sound smart & thoughtful, it may be him secretly tweaking my brain…

  5. Ariane Goodwin, Ed.D. says:

    I think there’s a huge difference in describing someone’s behavior from a historical perspective, as faulty as history can be, and naming names without clear evidence. These weren’t trials where anyone could defend themselves. And just attending a Communist meeting, whether or not one intended to become a Communist, was enough to be on “The List.”

    Speaking out, in and of itself, may, or may not be “maligning, ” which has its own subset of criteria to, in fact, be maligning.

    Another difference is between describing the outcome of someone’s behavior, and name calling. I’m name calling when I say Henry was a bully, which has a different tone than if I say, “As a child, Henry bullied me.”

  6. Hitler’s art was bad, as were his actions. The connection may be his inability to feel or empathize, but that may also be coincidental.

    Too, there are good people who don’t make good art.

    While an artist’s behavior might color our opinions of that person, his or her art should stand alone.

  7. Ariane Goodwin, Ed.D. says:

    Interesting idea, Mary, that anything, art or otherwise, can “stand alone,”since everything is in, and comes from, a context… and I do understand your point. That our judgments of a person’s behavior and their art work should be kept separate.

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