Friday, 29 March 2013

Separating art from the artist: Why should we?

Recently there have been two high profile cases of men who have been celebrated and allowed to continue working having committed serious violent crimes against women. In both cases it has been deemed that their work is more important than their crime. Their crimes have either been ignored or not deemed serious enough to interrupt their career.

The BFI had a "two-month retrospective" of Roman Polanski over January and February. Oh joys. On 10 March 1977 Roman Polanski was charged with the rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under fourteen. He pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse but never faced sentencing as he did a runner, to put it bluntly. The BFI didn't even acknowledge the crime in their "retrospective". Conservative with the truth, let's say.

Now, admittedly, I am not an avid "Art" fan. I like some of it, I enjoy watching films, love reading books but I will never be completely immersed in it. Maybe this is why I can't see beyond a man's crimes to appreciate his art, or maybe it is because I am a human being. However, you can see evidence of Polanski's misogyny in his films and his inappropriate fixation on young girls. Chinatown and Tess are particularly problematic in this area, not mention Polanski's relationship with Nastassja Kinski when she was only 15. The attitude and sense of entitlement it takes to rape someone doesn't just appear in isolation. It permeates throughout their life including their work.

I may not be an arts fan but I am a sports fan. On 14th February 2013 Oscar Pistorius killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp by shooting her 4 times. This is not in doubt. Following this killing there was a lot of disbelief and misplaced adulation and barely a mention of his victim. This eradication of Reeva and what happened to her has continued now in that Pistorius has been granted leave to compete abroad whilst waiting on bail for his trial (set to be in June). So the judge in South Africa saw fit to prioritise his career above the crime he has been charged with. Again there is a separation of the crime from the work of the man as if the two are not related.

Pistorius showed a glimpse of his sense of entitlement at the London 2012 Paralympics when losing the 200m to Alan Fonteles. Elite sportsmen often have an arrogance and selfishness which gets them to the top. This selfishness is only one step away from feeling entitlement. When all around you tell you how good you are and how you deserve to win, it will have an impact on your mindset. Allowing him to compete whilst waiting for trial is another incident emphasising that he is allowed special and preferential treatment. It does require a sense of entitlement to shoot your girlfriend through a bathroom door, four times.

You can't separate a man and his work. His work is part of him as is his crime. They don't sit in separate compartments. They overlap. Compartmentalising it is very convenient for the men who commit these crimes and for all other men who commit violence, especially against women. Seeing a crime in isolation from the man denies the connection and the pattern that these men follow. It encourages only focussing on the individual and not only the overall problem of male violence. It perpetuates the rape culture we live in, allows male violence to continue and keeps women oppressed. Ignoring men's behaviour when they commit crimes against women and promoting their work really only sends out one message: women and their lives do not matter.

Not only do we we need to name the problem of male violence but punish it and remember what these men did.


  1. I couldn't agree more. I wonder if art puts off many women because it's so male dominated. Men use 'art' to justify their misogyny and pat themselves on the back for being so liberal-minded and supporting 'freedom of speech'.
    Some feminists just say the hell with art, but I can't because art is really the only thing I can do. So I focus on art by women artists and I make art that doesn't exploit female bodies or reinforce patriarchal narratives.

    Because the artworld is dominated by men and patriarchal institutions (anyone who hasn't graduated from a prestigious art school is an "outsider" and discriminated against when it comes to grants and awards), I labor in obscurity and it's doubtful I'll ever be able to support myself from it, yet the cause is too important to give up.

  2. I think you are absolutely spot on with the misogyny putting women off entering that world. As I said I don't know a great deal about art but I know the misogyny in sport puts other women off. Why else is it necessary for women-only gyms. Men aren't generally supportive of women's sport, only critical. I can well imagine the same in the art world. In fact probably worse because as you say, they use their misogyny to get ahead and get recognition.