Do you separate the art from the artist?

October 20, 2019

       "Can you remove the man from his art?" the students asked me. I told them that I am still a fan of Kevin Spacey's acting, and that the last season of House of Cards had been a disaster without him. A few murmured assent. Someone asked: "But do you still listen to R. Kelly?" Fortunately, I don't, I never have. "I still listen to Michael Jackson even though I hate the guy," said another student.

       But this discussion was about Plácido Domingo. I had just presented on Verdi's Macbeth to an attentive and brilliant group of students at Baruch College. Their professor had tickets for them to see the performance at the Metropolitan Opera in a few days. "Isn't it like life imitating art, kind of, that this Domingo story is going down when he's supposed to play Macbeth, which is all about getting and using power in the wrong way?" a student remarked. A few had seriously considered boycotting the performance. Until Domingo withdrew. Still, many said they would have gone, even if he hadn't withdrawn. "To get the chance to see a legend onstage." 

       "So, you would be able to separate the art from the human being then?" I asked. Several nods came back at me. 

       Suddenly, a young woman in the front row exclaimed: "But you can't! Not in this case. Didn't he use his art because the human being in him had the wrong ideas in his head? Those women singers he pressured were making the same art like him. He pretended to help their art, and then he tried to kill that art because the man in him didn't get what he wanted. How do you separate that? Can you?"

       Silence reigned over the classroom.