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Separating the Artist from their Art
Old 16th August 2019
  #1
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Separating the Artist from their Art

This is a question I've pondered over several lifetimes, apparently.

Richard Wagner was arguably a brilliant composer, but also arguably an awful person. His treatment of women, his anti-Semitism, and his inability to pay any of the loans he received back, e.g. I used to enjoy listening to Wagner, especially the good bits of Lohengrin, and his Siegfried Idyll, but as I got older, I no longer received the same enjoyment from listening, the more I learned about him as a person.

In the visual art world, I can't look at a piece by Jean (Hans) Arp without wondering which piece created by his wife, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, he ripped off. I read an article yonks ago that showed a dozen or so examples of one of her works and then one of his that he created later, usually identical. He was lauded and unless you're Swiss and occasionally look at your money, you've probably never heard of her.

Just two examples of what I consider great artists, terrible human beings. I'm sure y'all can come up with other examples.

Of course, my question: Can you separate the Art from the Artist? Do you feel an artist's personal beliefs and behaviors detract from the art of their creations? Or, can we just enjoy each creation as a thing in itself to be enjoyed (or not) based upon its own intrinsic merit?
Old 16th August 2019
  #2
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I guess it depends, no?

I don't have a problem separating Wagner from his music. I mean, he's been dead for like 135+ years or whatever, and I don't hear in the music what made him disagreeable. To me it would be different if it was a now living artist that had despicable views because I then wouldn't want to financially support that person, and I certainly wouldn't want to buy art that relayed despicable messages.

But yeah, of course there are other lines... like I wouldn't go out and buy a Riefenstahl painting or something like that, no matter how nice it was.
Old 16th August 2019
  #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mattiasnyc View Post
I guess it depends, no?

I don't have a problem separating Wagner from his music. I mean, he's been dead for like 135+ years or whatever, and I don't hear in the music what made him disagreeable. To me it would be different if it was a now living artist that had despicable views because I then wouldn't want to financially support that person, and I certainly wouldn't want to buy art that relayed despicable messages.

But yeah, of course there are other lines... like I wouldn't go out and buy a Riefenstahl painting or something like that, no matter how nice it was.
An interesting way to look at it and one that probably isn’t too far from my own thinking, but - playing Devil’s Advocate here - why should Riefenstahl be any different to Wagner? Similar politics, both dead now, etc.

Is it that Riefenstahl is more recent? In which case, where do we draw the line? How much time has to pass before the art outweighs the artist?

Is it the quality of the art? But that takes us back to the whole subjective judgement argument that has been done to death in countless threads on here.

I’m not playing silly buggers here, but I am interested in your (and others’) thinking on this. Even if only to help me understand or challenge my own...
Old 16th August 2019
  #4
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I think Riefenstahl is a more clear cut case. I've read things where people wrote that Wagner was an anti-semite, but I've never read or heard anything of his that made that clear. I'm not saying he wasn't, but there's a huge difference between someone maybe having been that because someone said so and on the other hand someone making propaganda films for the German national socialist regime.
Old 16th August 2019
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mattiasnyc View Post
I guess it depends, no?

I don't have a problem separating Wagner from his music. I mean, he's been dead for like 135+ years or whatever, and I don't hear in the music what made him disagreeable. To me it would be different if it was a now living artist that had despicable views because I then wouldn't want to financially support that person, and I certainly wouldn't want to buy art that relayed despicable messages.

But yeah, of course there are other lines... like I wouldn't go out and buy a Riefenstahl painting or something like that, no matter how nice it was.
I purposely didn't mention any living artists, but there are some that do great music, yet due to their political beliefs, I won't give them a penny. Not even a listen on YouTube.

I've never actually seen even a clip of a film by Riefenstahl, but it's my understanding that she was pretty much the template for art as propaganda, as far as fascism and authoritarianistic socialism go.

What I find most fascinating is that my favorite director of is Tarkovsky, who made some absolutely amazing films while under the thumb of the USSR. I adore Shostakovich for similar reasons. But maybe that's because they didn't necessarily have those beliefs and strained against the boundaries.

So, you think time is the great arbitrator here? That if the Art continues to be enjoyed, despite the life of the Artist, it's okay? I'm not looking for permission here, just other peoples' views.
Old 16th August 2019
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by syntonica View Post
I've never actually seen even a clip of a film by Riefenstahl, but it's my understanding that she was pretty much the template for art as propaganda, as far as fascism and authoritarianistic socialism go.
Well, for fascism and authoritarianism yes. Just in general though you could walk through any well equipped European large cathedral and look at all the art. It's not just about the story the art tells but about what it tells people to do as well as think. So I think we had propaganda far before Leni's work, it's just that as long as we agree with it "it isn't really propaganda", if you know what I mean. I think we agree on this.

Quote:
Originally Posted by syntonica View Post
What I find most fascinating is that my favorite director of is Tarkovsky, who made some absolutely amazing films while under the thumb of the USSR. I adore Shostakovich for similar reasons. But maybe that's because they didn't necessarily have those beliefs and strained against the boundaries.
Yeah, I think we have to be a bit careful with this. Not all that lived under a system agreed with it or worked to further it. Surely some did, but some did not.

Quote:
Originally Posted by syntonica View Post
So, you think time is the great arbitrator here? That if the Art continues to be enjoyed, despite the life of the Artist, it's okay? I'm not looking for permission here, just other peoples' views.
I understand.

No, I don't think time is the great arbitrator necessarily, and I wouldn't go as far as saying we can praise or blame those who listen to a particular artist, at least not without further discussion about said art.

As I mentioned in my second post, I think there's a huge difference between people saying someone had a (despicable) view in general, and on the other a person taking practical steps to implement that view.

Let's just say that if I walk into someone's home and they're listening to Der Ring I probably won't be particularly concerned. But if their home is filled with Leni's work I'll probably raise an eyebrow and then maybe try to figure out what their beliefs really are...

... and on that note I'll just say that we currently have far greater worries as far as peddling questionable ideologies goes...
Old 16th August 2019
  #7
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Originally Posted by adrianww View Post
An interesting way to look at it and one that probably isn’t too far from my own thinking, but - playing Devil’s Advocate here - why should Riefenstahl be any different to Wagner? Similar politics, both dead now, etc.

Is it that Riefenstahl is more recent? In which case, where do we draw the line? How much time has to pass before the art outweighs the artist?

Is it the quality of the art? But that takes us back to the whole subjective judgement argument that has been done to death in countless threads on here.

I’m not playing silly buggers here, but I am interested in your (and others’) thinking on this. Even if only to help me understand or challenge my own...
Those are pretty much my questions.

I just discovered that a certain musical artist has been espousing basically white supremacist views, despite creating music (which is quite good, in my opinion, but that's neither here nor there for this topic) which is very obviously influenced by black artists. Not only is that, in itself, a complete WTF? moment, it just angers me.

Maybe I'm just jealous that some complete asshole has more talent than me?

I think the example of Riefenstahl may be easier to parse since her films were blatantly political for a particularly distasteful philosophy. I struggle with many of the current "leftist" documentaries for similar reasons, but mostly because I find them artless and manipulative. More narcissistic ego projects than anything else.

Maybe I should watch one of her films and see what I think/feel.
Old 16th August 2019
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mattiasnyc View Post
Just in general though you could walk through any well equipped European large cathedral and look at all the art.

... and on that note I'll just say that we currently have far greater worries as far as peddling questionable ideologies goes...
Aha! That's something I hadn't considered. I really enjoy religious art, despite my views on Abrahamic religions. Crap. Maybe I'm being a hypocrite when it comes to Wagner. I mean, his opera's don't have anything blatantly questionable, although I think Freud might have had a field day examining them!

Perhaps Wagner's only received a bad rap only because of who liked his Facebook page long after he went on to his great reward.
Old 18th August 2019
  #9
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You might like this



Stephen Fry is a well-known personality in the UK. He's done comedy, written books about poetry and Greek myths, and is an all-around loveable boffin.

He's also gay and Jewish, and an uneasy fan of Wagner. It's an interesting documentary.
Old 18th August 2019
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mattiasnyc View Post
I think Riefenstahl is a more clear cut case. I've read things where people wrote that Wagner was an anti-semite, but I've never read or heard anything of his that made that clear. I'm not saying he wasn't, but there's a huge difference between someone maybe having been that because someone said so and on the other hand someone making propaganda films for the German national socialist regime.
Fair enough. That's a perfectly reasonable argument and I'll go along with that.

Although I then wonder if there could ever be a case where someone is a known, documented "wrong 'un" (so to speak) but their art is such that it still deserves consideration purely as artistic expression.

Could any of us ever say "Well, I really don't like or agree with so-and-so and think they're beyond the pale, but their art is still incredibly moving"? As the question was originally posed, can we ever separate the art from the artist?

The art purist in me (for want of a better description) hopes that we can, but the normal human being suspects we can't.

Still, it's interesting to think about. Thank you.
Old 18th August 2019
  #11
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Originally Posted by adrianww View Post
Fair enough. That's a perfectly reasonable argument and I'll go along with that.

Although I then wonder if there could ever be a case where someone is a known, documented "wrong 'un" (so to speak) but their art is such that it still deserves consideration purely as artistic expression.

Could any of us ever say "Well, I really don't like or agree with so-and-so and think they're beyond the pale, but their art is still incredibly moving"? As the question was originally posed, can we ever separate the art from the artist?

The art purist in me (for want of a better description) hopes that we can, but the normal human being suspects we can't.

Still, it's interesting to think about. Thank you.
Since you seem like a thoughtful person you might enjoy the documentary video that Jack posted. I just finished watching it and it's pretty interesting.
Old 18th August 2019
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mattiasnyc View Post
Since you seem like a thoughtful person you might enjoy the documentary video that Jack posted. I just finished watching it and it's pretty interesting.
I have a vague memory of watching that documentary on TV when it was first broadcast in the U.K. Think it might have been a BBC co-production or something.

In any case, it probably does deserve a re-visit.
Old 18th August 2019
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DistortingJack View Post
You might like this



Stephen Fry is a well-known personality in the UK. He's done comedy, written books about poetry and Greek myths, and is an all-around loveable boffin.

He's also gay and Jewish, and an uneasy fan of Wagner. It's an interesting documentary.
Thanks! I've been a Fry fan since Bits of Fry and Laurie (poor Hugh, always seeming to get the ****ty end of the stick! ) I particular love him and Davies on QI, which we seriously need here on U.S. television.

Interesting that Wagner had a Steinway and not a Steinweg.

I think I've kinda sorted some of my questions out. There seems to be two kinds of artists that I'm inspecting here: those that struggle against the power and do their best to slip things past the censors and those that are "true believers", like Wagner with his anti-Semitic screed. It's these latter people that still rankle me.

Off to finish the doco and see how Mr Fry resolves this dilemma...
Old 18th August 2019
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by adrianww View Post
An interesting way to look at it and one that probably isn’t too far from my own thinking, but - playing Devil’s Advocate here - why should Riefenstahl be any different to Wagner? Similar politics, both dead now, etc.

Is it that Riefenstahl is more recent? In which case, where do we draw the line? How much time has to pass before the art outweighs the artist?

Is it the quality of the art? But that takes us back to the whole subjective judgement argument that has been done to death in countless threads on here.

I’m not playing silly buggers here, but I am interested in your (and others’) thinking on this. Even if only to help me understand or challenge my own...
Riefenstahl was not only more recent, she has a direct connection to Hitler and the Third Reich, and unarguably produced blatant propaganda - something not the case with Wagner. There is that distinction.

It's a slippery slope to not necessarily to invoke politics and art, as this day and age so much of it can be intertwined; but to dismiss it totally because of it, it's kinda like cutting off the nose to spite the face, if the art is something they'd truly like if that association wasn't there.

Should Israelis and Zionist Jews boycott Pink Floyd because of Roger Waters' virulent anti Israel/pro Palestine stance?

Should MAGAts totally disavow John Legend for his passionate take downs of Trump? Should they now never ever watch a film that has Robert DeNiro in it? Pathetically (IMO), a good throng of them have written off Hollywood...as well most of the entertainment industry. It's ironic, because that's the one thing that frustrates Trump the most, the shunning by A-listers, B-listers and pretty much any notable celebrity of note...so he's left mostly with a motley crew of lesser knowns.

In general art should transcend the pettiness of tribal politics, or for that matter personal characteristics/flaws of the artist (Picasso, Miles Davis anyone?). But it should be within one's prerogative whether to support or deny an artist for whatever reason; it should be a personal decision. In the end it's only their loss. Paul Ryan said his favorite band was Rage Against the Machine...there are a lot of dichotomies like that.
Old 19th August 2019
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Riefenstahl made movies before the war, ostensibly as a government contractor. They were well reviewed internationally. It's easy to have 20/20 hindsight.
Old 19th August 2019
  #16
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Rubbish. I've read somewhere that 5% of the Swiss people eat cats. Should I stop buying Swiss products because of that now?! People are people, never in white or black. I don't care what you do in personal life, I'm not you mom, nor God from above to judge you, if you can offer something valuable to society then I'm interested if it suits my taste. Regarding Wagner...who knows...Hitler was a big fan of his work, probably that's a turn-off for many, but this has nothing to do with anything. Maybe that's also why some call him anti-semitic, via association. Would you reject something of artistic value because of rumours?! That's up to you to answer.
Old 19th August 2019
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AndreiPiatra View Post
Regarding Wagner...who knows...Hitler was a big fan of his work, probably that's a turn-off for many, but this has nothing to do with anything. Maybe that's also why some call him anti-semitic. Would you reject something of artistic value because of rumours?! That's up to you to answer.
No, not rumors...Wagner was a known anti-semite, irrespective of any adoration and adulation Hitler had of him.
Old 19th August 2019
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 12tone View Post
No, not rumors...Wagner was a known anti-semite, irrespective of any adoration and adulation Hitler had of him.
Maybe ,but, who cares? Even Oprah said in an interview that all old white people from South Africa should die. I don't see people boycotting her. Who am I to judge anyone's believes? It's a personal thing, I'm only interested on what you have to offer to the world.
Old 19th August 2019
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AndreiPiatra View Post
Maybe ,but, who cares? Even Oprah said in an interview that all old white people from South Africa should die. I don't see people boycotting her. Who am I to judge anyone's believes? It's a personal thing, I'm only interested on what you have to offer to the world.
You're entitled to feel as you do.

What you said about Wagner was wrong though.
Old 19th August 2019
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 12tone View Post
You're entitled to feel as you do.

What you said about Wagner was wrong though.
I find it exhausting digging into someone's personal life that I'm not related with. I don't care, if I don't know you, and I have nothing to do with you I simply don't care what you think in your free time about anything, unless is something incredibly revealing that could improve my life or someone else's in a way. Why should we bother with this? I mean, if we had to be p.c. with everything and everyone we would be living alone, isolated. People say stupid things all the time, famous or less famous, let's move on and stick to what counts.
Old 19th August 2019
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AndreiPiatra View Post
I find it exhausting digging into someone's personal life that I'm not related with. I don't care, if I don't know you, and I have nothing to do with you I simply don't care what you think in your free time about anything, unless is something incredibly revealing that could improve my life or someone else's in a way. Why should we bother with this? I mean, if we had to be p.c. with everything and everyone we would be living alone, isolated. People say stupid things all the time, famous or less famous, let's move on and stick to what counts.
Wagner is a very important historical figure. Certain things about his life are common knowledge.

You can live your life as you do, know what you know or not...but dude, it's not such an esoteric thing I've mentioned, and it was germane to the thread.

Ignorance is nothing to stubbornly celebrate, or passively accept as ho hum...
Old 19th August 2019
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 12tone View Post
Wagner is a very important historical figure. Certain things about his life are common knowledge.

You can live your life as you do, know what you know or not...but dude, it's not such an esoteric thing I've mentioned, and it was germane to the thread.

Ignorance is nothing to stubbornly celebrate, or passively accept as ho hum...
Ok, and so is Oprah, a very well-known public figure. Forget it, it doesn't work! We would have to reject ALL figures if we'd follow the p.c. principles. It's what you do, not what you say. This is why for French is very important to say anything, under no restriction, as the famous Charlie Hebdo publication do (and they go over the top with sensitive issues all the time), because if speech isn't free, then the mind isn't free, and ultimately the body. Who gets elected president this days? The white knights? No, the people that hide their garbage best!
Old 19th August 2019
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AndreiPiatra View Post
Ok, and so is Oprah, a very well-known public figure. Forget it, it doesn't work! We would have to reject ALL figures if we'd follow the p.c. principles. It's what you do, not what you say. This is why for French is very important to say anything, under no restriction, as the famous Charlie Hebdo publication do (and they go over the top with sensitive issues all the time), because if speech isn't free, then the mind isn't free, and ultimately the body. Who gets elected president this days? The white knights? No, the people that hide their garbage best!
Whaaa? PC?!? What does that have anything to do with it?

Or "free speech"?

You can say whatever the F you want AFAIAC, but while you're entirely entitled to your opinions, you're not entitled to your own facts. What is this, an idiocracy?

You hope in a discourse, facts are important, no?
Old 19th August 2019
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AndreiPiatra View Post
Ok, and so is Oprah, a very well-known public figure.
Oprah didn't say what you say she did. Like 12tone wrote facts are facts and not opinions. If you want to take the question the OP asked seriously then not everything is the same, Oprah isn't Wagner isn't Riefenstahl etc.

- Wagner was (as far as we know) an anti-Semite who created great art. He's been dead for well over a decade and never made direct efforts to exterminate people en masse. In fact it seems his primary goal was assimilation, not extermination.

- Riefenstahl directly contributed to one of the worst regimes humanity has ever seen. In so doing she contributed to the extermination of millions of humans. While she made some comments about not wanting to have made such propaganda her being cozy with top leaders in the party kind'a makes it seem a bit of a weak objection.

- Oprah in turn is now living, not dead, and made a comment that in context doesn't mean what you say it means. One could argue if what she said was correct or moral, but it was pretty far from what you said it was literally and in context. She's also an entertainer "light" and doesn't make art as such, so why she's in this thread is beyond me.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AndreiPiatra View Post
Forget it, it doesn't work! We would have to reject ALL figures if we'd follow the p.c. principles. It's what you do, not what you say.
Speaking is something you "do" though, and in addition to that words can inspire people to do any number of things, from buying a Coke instead of a Pepsi to murdering people. Words matter. A lot.

Sometimes "being PC" isn't about being PC, it's about a) not being a bigoted jerk, and b) not making society worse by promoting things that are bad.

Now, in this case however, very fortunately "PC" has absolutely nothing to do with this since the thread is about enjoying art, not speaking in public.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AndreiPiatra View Post
This is why for French is very important to say anything, under no restriction, as the famous Charlie Hebdo publication do (and they go over the top with sensitive issues all the time), because if speech isn't free, then the mind isn't free, and ultimately the body. Who gets elected president this days? The white knights? No, the people that hide their garbage best!
I think we have very recent very clear evidence of the opposite actually. Maybe 'they' are an exception though?
Old 19th August 2019
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 12tone View Post
Whaaa? PC?!? What does that have anything to do with it?

Or "free speech"?

You can say whatever the F you want AFAIAC, but while you're entirely entitled to your opinions, you're not entitled to your own facts. What is this, an idiocracy?

You hope in a discourse, facts are important, no?
This very topic is about PC! OP is wondering if it's moral to listen something valuable to his ears coming from a guy that could've been an extremist. And my opinion is that he should not let the stories behind the man ruin his musical experience. I mean...let's ask Germans and everyone else to not drive their cars on Autobahn because they were made by Hitler! How stupid is that? Forget it, people say and do stupid things all the time.

I had a similar talk to a friend of mine about our football club, here in Romania, called CFR Cluj. The club is now run by politicians, using corrupt money, yet the team is playing very well and there are even chances to make it into the Champions League stages(most important football competition here in Europe). I tell him...well, it really stinks what's going on in the upper levels, but why not enjoy what this players do on the field? He says...neah, I can't watch it knowing who runs the club now. And I said to him...well ok, but nothing in life is ever white or black, if you don't appreciate the good you will feel miserable and lonely anywhere you go. Think I convinced him.
Old 19th August 2019
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AndreiPiatra View Post
This very topic is about PC!
Not in relation to the fact whether Wagner was an anti-semite or not. He dissed Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer specifically because they were Jewish, and he openly moped about their success in a conspiratorial manner. He's written opinions espousing the same anti-semitic tropes that have long existed in Europe.

Long before Hitler and the Naz*s, in Germany there existed intense Nationalistic trends with scapegoating of Jews. It's just that Hitler coalesced it in nefarious ways unseen before, no doubt helped by the after effects of the Treaty of Versailles.

You seem to say that doesn't matter, it's trivial, and somehow conflate the PC thing with it.

Old 19th August 2019
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 12tone View Post
Not in relation to the fact whether Wagner was an anti-semite or not. He dissed Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer specifically because they were Jewish, and he openly moped about their success in a conspiratorial manner. He's written opinions espousing the same anti-semitic tropes that have long existed in Europe.

Long before Hitler and the Naz*s, in Germany there existed intense Nationalistic trends with scapegoating of Jews. It's just that Hitler coalesced it in nefarious ways unseen before, no doubt helped by the after effects of the Treaty of Versailles.

You seem to say that doesn't matter, it's trivial, and somehow conflate the PC thing with it.

Well yeah, most of the time is indeed "trivial", like 99,9999% is trivial and it doesn't matter. That would be me, you and most people out there. Our mind goes into dark places all the time, if we articulate those thoughts it doesn't mean we're evil. But, if you actually deport people, put them behind bars to work for your arms industry it's a different story, cause you're not only articulating a thought, but you're actually taking actions to physically manipulate things and people around. And in spite of that...how can anyone not say that Hitler did a great job with the German infrastructure? Ok, he was an extremist, but let's focus on what eventually matters for us and for our future, and that is the good. And the good very rarely comes from humans that are 100% good, with no dark corners in their heads. It sucks to be so, but hey, that's life, if you can't accept it the way it presents to you...you're going to have a hard time.
Old 19th August 2019
  #28
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Originally Posted by mattiasnyc View Post
- Riefenstahl directly contributed to one of the worst regimes humanity has ever seen. In so doing she contributed to the extermination of millions of humans. While she made some comments about not wanting to have made such propaganda her being cozy with top leaders in the party kind'a makes it seem a bit of a weak objection.
She made straight-up historical documentary films. Plenty of artists have done this kind of thing. Condemnation for her lack of pre-cognition or lack of balls to say "no" to Hitler (would you?) is context-free, hindsight quarterbacking.

Worth noting: She was never a member of the **** party.
Old 19th August 2019
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mattiasnyc View Post
- Wagner was (as far as we know) an anti-Semite
Which is pretty far, q.v. “Das Judenthum in der Musik” (Jewishness in Music). Although he seemed to mellow on the subject in his later years, wife Cosima, née Liszt, seemed to have taken up the cause, as did his family down the line, who welcomed Herr H. with open arms.

I have also learned that he wanted a Jew to conduct his Parcifal, who he basically said that he understood Wagner like no other. I think that goes some way to absolving him of his views, especially considering that era’s common views.
Old 19th August 2019
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by creegstor View Post
She made straight-up historical documentary films. Plenty of artists have done this kind of thing. Condemnation for her lack of pre-cognition or lack of balls to say "no" to Hitler (would you?) is context-free, hindsight quarterbacking.

Worth noting: She was never a member of the **** party.
"Triumph of the Will" a straight up documentary?

Then Birth of a Nation is a non racist feel good movie...

No question Triumph of the Will is a monumental work of art, but there's no denying it's an epic demonstration of propaganda, maybe the most powerful one known in history.

Yes, propaganda can be art. I've seen a couple of exhibits of propaganda art. They're interesting...I think one can detach artistic elements from controversial connotations. Maybe not immediately while it's happening, but with time and hindsight, they can be analysed and appreciated for what is is and better understand the context that they existed in.

History should be transparent...
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