Polanski, Gill and Morality; Should we look at Artists or their Art ?

Ariel_between_Wisdom_and_Gaiety by Eric Gill

Artists and Creators often put so much of themselves into their work that it’s hard to separate their personal lives and views from the work they create. If personal views or lifestyles are revealed that we don’t agree with or that we even find abhorrent should we still be allowed to enjoy their creations ? Does the amount of time that’s passed make a difference and if the part of them that we dislike is not an influence on their work does that make a difference ?

Ender’s Game

Ender's GameThere’s been a lot of controversy recently about the author Orson Scott Card’s views on gay marriage and calls for a boycott on the new movie adaptation of his most famous work “Ender’s Game”.

The book has won numerous awards and is considered a great work of Science Fiction. Should there be a conflict because of his personal and political views ? The view that gay people shouldn’t have the same rights as anyone else is becoming more and more outdated.

Harrison Ford recently had to defend the movie adaptation¬† “I think none of Mr. Card’s views on gay marriage are part of the thematics of this film.” It’s an interesting point and very valid. Orson Scott Card may have views which you might not agree with but he’s not breaking laws. Enjoying his work isn’t directly approving of his views but as he’s still around to profit it might just make him richer.

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest-HemingwayErnest Hemingway is one of the most respected authors of the 20th Century but he was notoriously racist, homophobic, sexist and anti-semitic.

Was he a product of his times ? I don’t think there are many people who would argue that his books should be disregarded because of views he held. His views did slip into the thematics of his novels with a lot of anti semiticism appearing.

Steve Tyler

Steve Tyler JuliaAs a singer with Aerosmith, Steve Tyler could be classified as an artist but if he was British I think the Yewtree detectives could be having a closer look. In 1975 he became guardian to a young girl (Julia Holcomb, pictured left) and he was in a romantic relationship with her for 3 years until she became pregnant. Although it appears she was 16 when she met him the whole story doesn’t cast him in a great light.

This seems to have been overlooked because it was consensual and he had her parent’s permission. You might not approve of his behaviour but isn’t it all part of his rock and roll image.

Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski is undoubtedly an amazing movie director who with “The Pianist” created one of the most moving films I’ve ever seen. He’s had a tragic life in that as a youth he survived the holocaust and later on his pregnant wife Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson family. He went on to create some amazing movies.

This doesn’t excuse the fact that he also drugged, raped and sodomised a 13 year old girl.

What’s particularly surprising about this case is the fact that he has so much support and so many apologists in mainstream society with over a hundred members of the film community petitioning for his release. Even Whoopi Goldberg came out to state that it wasn’t rape, rape. If he had been locked up when he had plead guilty and not fled the country he would not have been in a position to have gone on to create some of his masterpieces.

Eric Gill

Ariel_between_Wisdom_and_Gaiety by Eric GillOn a different level is Eric Gill. He was a fantastic sculptor who in the early part of the 20th Century was commissioned to create some of the most high profile sculptures and carvings in London. He was a devout catholic and at the heart of a thriving artistic community which he founded.

He also happened to have bizarre and awful sexual practices. He abused his children, had an incestuous relationship with his sister and had sexual relations with his dog.

These disturbing facts weren’t revealed until a biography in 1989 forty years after his death and it wasn’t practical to remove his sculptures which weren’t just embedded in the nation’s culture but were also physically embedded within some of the buildings that his work adorns. He’s been gone a long time so there would be little benefit in this anyway.


When the depraved truth about an entertainer like Jimmy Savile comes to light it’s easy to denounce his work as well him as a person. He didn’t have critical acclaim and repeats of Top of the Pops or Jim’ll Fix It with him as the star won’t be missed.

I think we have to try and separate Artists from their Art and understand that the part of them that creates isn’t necessarily the same part that controls their thoughts and actions. There may be reflections in their work but we can’t deprive people of the benefit of their art because of their actions. The challenge is to make sure this isn’t taken as tacit approval.

Let me know what you think.