“When Life Gets in The Way of Art”

EXCELLENT AND complex piece by Randy Kennedy in today’s NYT about the oft-debated question: can or should an artist’s work be re-considered when their life’s stories reveal unpleasant or worse — repugnant — chapters. Kennedy’s jumping-off point folo story anchored in the story of Ernest C. Withers, the Civil Rights photographer who was recently outed as a paid FBI-informant who spied on many of the movement’s leadership. Chillingly, he was there the day Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated at the Lorraine Hotel, as well as being present for the Emmett Till murder trial. His images are some of the most famous of the movement’s battle years
How Withers might feel now about his role in history — both as an insider and spy — we’ll most likely never know, as he died in 2007. But the question that question swirls: does it change the intent of the history he witnessed and the art he made while participating in it?
Kennedy looks at other famously complicated histories — T.S. Eliot, Elia Kazan — the place where politics and art intersect — as well as looking at the Joaquin Phoenix/Casey Affleck docu-farce which attempted to bend unseemly fiction-into-fact but failed miserably.


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