It can be difficult to remain open-minded when a beloved artist is accused of terrible things.
There’s a saying: Don’t ask how the sausage is made. You may enjoy the end product. Maybe you’re even able to suspend judgment about its dubious origins. Sometimes even when there’s no denying the truth of a thing, some will still choose to look away. Because the love of the thing is just that great.
When it comes to scandals swirling around our favorite (or once-favorite) celebrity artists, it’s tough, no doubt about it.
I’ve written a fair amount about art — movies, video games, music — and of those subjects I’ve covered, I always tackle them with levity in mind. Top-10 lists to give you something to read on your lunch break or during a trip to the bathroom. And when it’s not a top-10 list, when there is a precise point to be made, I usually have that in hand before I write word one. Here, when asking if we should suspend judgment about an artist we’ve loved who’s accused of terrible things, there is no true conclusion to be made.
Since celebrity gossip feeds news cycles, we all know artistic figures at the center of their respective scandals: Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Jeffrey Jones, Victor Salva, Johnny Depp, Joss Whedon… The list goes on. We know what our fallen heroes have been accused and/or convicted of. If any of the names above elude you, there are bucketloads of sordid details of their alleged crimes to pore over whenever you feel so inclined. “Alleged” is the key word, as it always is when speaking about these kinds of things. Whether they did them or not, well, that’s for you to decide. And because we are knee-deep in the Gray Area, I’m not going to try to sway you one way or the other. Yes, some have been to court and sentenced, and I’m not suggesting any were wrongfully accused. That’s not the goal.
To keep this discussion as objective as I can, instead of focusing on those real artists embroiled in scandal, let’s create our own Brilliant Artist. The Brilliant Artist is at the height of their career. They’ve not only established themselves as a wellspring of inspired material, but they’ve also achieved the nearly impossible for an artist of worthwhile, original art: they’ve become a household name. They are beloved by many. Not by all, because while becoming a household name is nearly impossible, being adored by all is impossible. But their art speaks to many. They’re endearing and laugh-out-loud funny in interviews. They’re influential within their chosen field. They are liked and powerful. They are a go-to when conversation slows to a crawl, because discussing what they’ll do next is an evergreen subject. They are known.
But between sessions at the canvas, when the light rigs and cameras are gone, the same hands that craft meaningful art are also used to leave painful marks. Deep ones. And not on just one person, by accident, not by some fluke moment of overzealousness. No, they inflict pain repeatedly against many, all of whom were hooked into the Brilliant Artist’s backstage world with the compelling art they make. Those under the spell of the Brilliant Artist felt they knew them, even before they met them. And they were willing to trust the Brilliant Artist quicker than they would any stranger, perhaps even immediately trust them more than they trust people they’ve known for years. Because the Brilliant Artist’s art cut through all the pretense, spoke for the Artist and spoke highly. The Artist couldn’t be a bad person because their art, in all its beauty and truth, said otherwise so very loudly. It couldn’t be a mask. Their art was like bandages around the Artist, and the admirer believed to unravel it was to reveal more truth and more beauty. If the art could enrich so much, the Artist must be able to do even greater things with a simple meeting of eyes, or a touch. In the search for truth, trust is paramount. And the Brilliant Artist knows this.
It’s easy to mentally accuse every extremely successful businessperson or politician of having a careless attitude toward others. We might think they consider the public, from whom they sponge their wealth and pleasure, to be prepackaged things, ready to be used, discarded and replaced. Hundreds of cartoonists have made livings lampooning those types. We might think it’s strange when a famous politician or businessperson doesn’t behave in this way or enjoys an entire career without some skeleton (or three) rattling out of their closet.
But not artists. We don’t look at them like that. We expect clean closets, skeleton-free. Especially not Brilliant Artist who was hilarious on Jimmy Fallon last week. We like to think artists know better. That they’re of the people. That they spend countless hours crafting special mirrors and lenses that show us the truth under all things, including ourselves. That they feel more than most and would never dare to hurt anyone, because they themselves feel pain so keenly.
But wolves don’t just wear sheep’s clothing. They have a deep and extensive wardrobe: a costume for every occasion.
Let’s say you and I have never met the Brilliant Artist. But we’ve heard things. Many will try to claim Brilliant Artist has become so famous and loved that the person leveling accusations of such ugliness against them must be a jilted lover, a jealous person, flatly wrong with no truth supporting their allegations.
The Brilliant Artist again tears their art to strips and adheres it to themselves, a quick mask, while giving a hasty rebuttal to these accusations. Of course I didn’t do that, the Brilliant Artist says, pressing the pad of a finger to a dangling strip that’s come unmoored from their cheek. Look at all this beautiful, moving art I make.
And at the risk of sounding like I’m about to scream, “Get off my lawn,” we sure do love our celebrities. We’re interested in the people who remain after the cameras are off and the light rigs have been packed up. The humans who visit us, entertain us, remind us we’re not alone. We pay hard-earned money to spend time with them. If those characters they play or the personas they adopt can speak to us, surely some part of them, underneath all that, must be able to resonate with us too. Right?
With that familiarity, multiple celebrities have been elected to public office — to varying degrees of what you might call success. They sure can entertain us, so maybe we should trust them to make important decisions on our behalf too.
As I previously stated, there is no answer. Some can look away; some cannot. Some should look closer but won’t. Some can enjoy the sausage while plugging their ears to the cries radiating from the slaughterhouse. Far too often in life, there’s no time to hesitate. But when the Brilliant Artist has his hand out — a hand that’s allegedly done some reprehensible things — it’s never wrong to take a moment and wonder how the sausage is made.
Should you suspend judgment when heroes fall? Sound off below.