Art, Artists, and Accusations in the #MeToo Era

The conviction this week of Bill Cosby brings, once again, the distinction between art and artist to the fore. Whereas it might be possible to look the other way for an artist that had problematic behavior at the level of “only unsubstantiated accusation” or a single incident once way in the past, Cosby’s history makes it clear that he was abusing from his first stand-up days, and throughout his film and TV career. It raises the question of how we view his media output in the light of this. For some, Cosby has made his media work a betrayal of the values that it conveyed. But for others? Does his behavior make his standup less funny? I grew up thinking his album “Wonderfulness” was one of the best, with routines like “Tonsils” and “Chicken Heart” memorized. There was none of his abusive behavior in those stories. Indeed, throughout much of his early standup, shows like “I Spy” and his various TV series (The Bill Cosby Show in the 1960s, Cosby, etc.) were mostly wholesome entertainment. How is that tainted by the abhorrent behavior of the artist? Or to put it bluntly: You’ve got the LPs, the CDs, the DVDs of those performances, although paid for. He makes no money whether you view them anymore. So what do you do with them? Is listening to them betrayal of your values or support of his behavior?

This, in essence, is the broader question of how we separate the art from the artist. It would be wonderful if all of our artist were good people (same for our politicians). If we enjoy their work, we want the artist to be good. But people are complicated, and art is complicated, and complicated people produce art with complications. Do we abandon the artistic output of people like Woody Allan, Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski? Do we not listen to bands where the rock stars slept with underage groupies? Do we delay doing so until the artist is dead, or will no longer make money from us that they can use towards abuse?

It’s not an easy question.

Complicating this is the fact that in having abusive sexual behavior, the victim is not the only one who is screwed. Think of all the other innocent actors on Bill Cosby shows, who are now not earning residuals because of Cosby’s behavior.  Think of the media companies that no longer make money, the writers that no longer get exposure. The people for whom their association with Cosby is now a stain on their resume. They didn’t ask for this. In penalizing the man, we hurt a larger community. [By the way, in saying this, I want to make clear that I don’t support his behavior or think we should look the other way. I’m only noting that his behavior hurts a far wider circle.]

It also raises the question of how we view art and artistic output in the #MeToo (and post-#MeToo era). Cosby has raised the question of good art from badly-behaving artists. But there’s also the question of the #MeToo lens. I’ve noted how our new environment has made me look at shows I watch and see differently — both for the good and bad. Some shows, like Steel Pier, resonate more post-#MeToo. Others are painful to watch because of the stereotypes they perpetuate or implicit privilege they capture (How To Succeed is an example of this, but far from the only one — perhaps Gone With The Wind is the best example). What do we do with this art, and how do we handle and reinterpret it. Do we need to explicitly express the historic context to enjoy it. Do we hide it away, embarrassed? Does art transform from good to bad because of its message?

Just as with people, art is complicated. Would there be simple answers?

I certainly don’t have them. But I see the conflict, I see the lens. I recognize the bad behavior of the artists, and (at least for some time) may set aside the artistic output. But I remain conflicted? What should I think when a song from Beyond the Sea with Keven Spacey comes on the iPod? To that end, what do I think about when I hear great music from artists that abused women? No easy answers.

I’m open to your thoughts. How are you dealing with the question of art and artists, in the post #MeToo era?


Feeling Crafty

This collection has taken a while to ripen to fruition:

  • Knitting as a Patriotic Duty. Here’s an interesting article on how knitting helped us win the war. From knitting for the troops to encoding information in garments, knitting has been vital.
  • The Welcome Blanket. Here’s an interesting knitting project: The Welcome Blanket. The aim of the project is to use 2,000 miles of yarn to knit blankets. The significance of that staggering number? It’s the approximate length of President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Those participating in the project are asked to knit (or crochet, or sew) a blanket that is 40 inches by 40 inches, which averages 1,200 yards. That means about 3,200 blankets will be needed to meet the goal. Participants are encouraged to make their blankets “something you would like to receive” and think of it as “a gift to a neighbor.”
  • Baby Hats. Don’t want to knit a blanket? How about baby hats? Oklahoma needs 5,000 of them, all in purple. Why? The campaign is part of an effort to raise awareness of Shaken Baby Syndrome, a form of abusive head trauma that’s a damaging parental response to excessive crying and can result in serious brain injury. The effort, dubbed “Click for Babies” after the sound knitting needles make, is intended to highlight the potential hazards of improper infant care. Why purple? Because the National Center for Shaken Baby Syndrome refers to an infant’s period of prolonged crying as the PURPLE period. The word is an acronym for reminders about the syndrome: L, for example, stands for Long-Lasting. Babies can cry for five hours a day, up to four months of age.

Don’t knit. Here’s a non-knitting item:



Getting Needled

While I’m getting ready to post the highway headlines and collecting information for some future themed news chums, here’s a little diversion: some articles related to the fiber arts:

  • Wall-to-Wall. No, I’m not talking about Trump’s wall. We’re talking carpet here — that tufted shag that keeps your tootsies warm. Have you ever wondered where carpet came from? Did it fly in like magic? Wonder no more: here’s a history of carpet. You’ll also learn about the infamous Empire Carpet jingle.
  • Knitting Disorder. I must confess: I live with a fabric artists. Right now, she’s on a knitting binge — and has been for a few years to the detriment of the numerous other fabric projects like needlepoint, cross-stitch, sewing projects, quilting, and dolls. I now have a possible reason: there is a connection between excessive knitting and addiction.
  • Hats and Marches. By now, you all know about the “pussy hats” that marchers wore on the Womens March on Washington after the inauguration. There’s going to be another march — this one for science — and here’s how to knit a brain hat.
  • Dusting It Off. Don’t want to knit a hat? How about crocheting a duster? Here’s how you can crochet your own Swooffer.



Saturday Chum Stew: Water, Vegas, Revolts, and Death. A Typical Week.

userpic=observationsSaturday, and time to clear out the news links before a busy weekend. Hopefully, you’ll find something of interest in these:



Artful Designs

userpic=needlepointContinuing our design theme of yesterday, here are a few more lunch-time articles related to some more artful designs:



History, Art, and Science

userpic=headlinesToday I spent the day with my daughter, and got to meet two of her three roommates for her sophomore semester: Varsha and Hayden. We spent the day with Varsha and Erin visiting the Legion of Honor Fine Art Museum (for one of their Art History projects), and had dinner with Erin and Hayden. I’ll note that at the Legion of Honor, we saw one of the most moving holocaust memorials I have ever seen. So art and history are on my mind, plus a little bit of science and security…

In the history department, I have a few deaths (or potential deaths) of interest:

  • Yvonne Brill. The LA Times has an interesting writeup on Yvonne Brill, who died March 27 at age 88. Brill was a very important woman rocket scientist and engineer who developed a revolutionary propulsion system that remains the industry standard for keeping unmanned spacecraft in constant, stationary orbit. Later in her career, she became the director of the space shuttle’s solid rocket motor program for NASA. In the last quarter-century of her life, she strove to help others pursue careers in science and math and especially pushed for women to achieve scientific recognition. Still, at one point, she moved to the East Coast to support her husband’s career, noting “good jobs are easier to find than good husbands.”
  • Martyl Langsdorf. The St. Louis Post Dispatch is reporting the death last month of Martyl Langsdorf, who designed what has been called the world’s scariest logo — the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Since its introduction in 1947, the drawing of the Doomsday Clock has kept watch as international incidents flared. The clock is a symbol of the nuclear age, whose minute hand moves closer to midnight— and presumed annihilation — with each major immediate danger. The clock hands can also move backward, if tensions cool. The hand has moved only 20 times during the past 65 years. It currently stands at five minutes to midnight.
  • CPI Corporation. You probably haven’t heard of CPI Corporation, which abruptly shut down last week. CPI Corporation is better known as the provider of photo studios in Sears and some Wal-Mart stores, and their shutdown deprives parents of an old-fashioned way of taking awkward photos of their children. Of course, there is always the cell phone.
  • Time Magazine. The Atlantic has an interesting article on how the death of Time Magazine may be soon, as they haven’t managed the Internet transition well.

Turning to the science side:  a number of interesting computer security articles. First, Israeli hackers have started attacking back at anti-Israel groups that have vouched to wipe Israel off the Internet. Next, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have uncovered a way to fingerprint credit cards to address credit card fraud. Lastly, a data breech at a St. Louis supermarket chain have alerted a large number of people to the risks of how data is handled.

Finally, a PS: To my friends who are involved with Northern Faire: Erin is interested in going this year, so I’ll be glad to forward to her any information on how to get discount tickets &c. (and how to coordinate transportation). She’s also likely interested in Dickets. She’s at UC Berkeley.

Music: Alive Alive-O (Jose Feliciano): “The Comedy Bit”


Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Art is an interesting thing, and it truly is in the eye of the beholder. We’ve been seeing this for the last two weeks in Los Angeles as “the Rock” (a 340-ton boulder) has made its way from a quarry in Riverside to the LA County Museum of Art, with an ever growing throng of supporters and onlookers. There have been true rock parties in places like Bixby Knolls and in the Fairfax district when the rock went through. Many people don’t understand how this is art. Still others, especially in articles, want to decry public expense and costs and officials that spend money on rocks (all without realizing that all the money to purchase and move the rock, as well as build the installation, was privately donated, and put lots and lots of people to work). But the people have fallen in love with this rock, just as they have fallen in love with other public art installations (I still remember the joy and wonder at Christo’s umbrellas in the Newhall Pass many many years ago).

Public art — especially natural public art — serves to inspire us. Through these installations, we are able to amplify the wonder of nature or to bring it home. I applaud LACMA for — perhaps unexpectedly — finding a way to remind people that art can excite in a way that a simple portrait never can.

Music: The Beatles (White Album)  (The Beatles): Cry, Baby Cry


Oh This Shiny New Computer / There Just Isn’t Nothin’ Cuter…

Today’s lunchtime news chum brings a few articles related to the arts:

Music: Country Pickin’ (Chet Atkins): The Bells of St. Mary’s