Should we really separate art from the artist?
Édouart Manet, Cézanne, the Dreyfus Affair, Cosby, Louis CK, and yours truly.
I have been a Cézanne fan for a long time for the simple reason that he did not achieve much success until he was over 50 years old. As I’m an artist without overwhelming success currently 47, you can see why the potential light at the end of the tunnel would appeal.
The impressionists in general appeal to me because I believe that a similar change to the one they represented in art is about to happen to comedy.
But then I learned that Cézanne was an anti-Dreyfusard, meaning that he was, if not an anti-semite himself, certainly on the side of the anti-semites with regard to Dreyfus Affair. To put it in modern day terms, he was MAGA.
The Dreyfus Affair was a turn of the 19th century political and social cluster-hump that looks very similar to some of our modern early-21st-century cluster-humps (France Knows How This Ends, The Atlantic).
The affair is named after Alfred Dreyfus, who was a Jewish French army officer wrongly convicted of treason. The people who convicted him, his superior officers, went to great lengths to ensure he stayed convicted, including manufacturing evidence. They also employed some extremely questionable back-room court shenanigans.
Much of the tide against Dreyfus was simply because he was Jewish. The anti-semites also enjoyed the support of a hyper-partisan press not unlike Fox/Facebook. In the end, the facts (Dreyfus’s innocence) didn’t much matter to the people who thought France, and in particular the French army officer core, should not admit Jews.
I have changed a lot about my life since 2016. I dress differently. I interact with people differently. Some old friends are now not friends. Hobbies I used to spend a lot of time and energy on are no more. Things that used to escape my notice are now very concerning to me. But I don’t have to tell you this. It has probably happened to you.
Does it Make Sense to Separate the Art from the Artist?
I understand the sentiment: “Look,” someone might say, “I’m not here to judge Cézanne, or Picasso, or Cosby, or Louis CK, I’m just interested in the art.”
And yet, if we’ve learned anything in the last few years, it might be that some of the people who are driven in their professional lives are so driven because it gives their staggering personal flaws if not fuel, then certainly cover. It’s not possible to become a Harvey Weinstein without being Harvey Weinstein.
And that is why I ask you to join me in saying, with complete conviction, fuck Paul Cézanne. Édouard Manet is my guy now.
Sure, Cézanne, Degas, and Renoir were all great painters. But you know who else is great? Jewish people all over the world.
Being a great painter, or a great comedian, or a great film producer shouldn’t excuse someone from showing basic human decency.
If it does, what does that say to people who lack human decency and refuse to get better? It says, “Pick up a paint brush.”