I cringe every time I like a Ryan McGinley photo, and it happens a lot. It mostly has to do with an interview I read around 2011, where he and Harmony Korine took a jab at the sentimentality and cliché nature of Adams’ work. (Here is a nice continuation of that thought.) I found this to be ignorant, offensive and hypocritical, especially considering the sometimes sickening amount of sentimentality running from McGinley’s oeuvre.
I still haven’t pinned down how I feel about McGinley as a photographer, though I find I like more of his work than I dislike. I even follow him on Instagram. But the attitude I caught in that exchange was enough to color my opinion of him, probably until he takes it back at some point. (I am really bad about holding grudges.)
At some point the artist must be removed from the art, at least to a degree. Even if Adolf Hitler’s art was worthy of legend, it would have to be forever stained by his legacy. But really, how much more extreme can you get than a Hitler analogy? Thankfully, Hitler is largely considered a middling artist, so the debate isn’t terribly difficult.
Extremes aside, even though I might have problems with some of an artist’s personal views, it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate his or her art. I’m a firm believer in not living in an echo chamber of beliefs, and something innocent enough should be forgivable. However, this does become much trickier when social issues become involved.
I guess in the case of strongly disagreeing on social issues, I have to consider it on a case-by-case basis. I’m sure I like the art of an anti-semite, a homophobe, racist, etc. I guess in general, it depends on how much it’s reflected in the art, how strongly the artist states the opinion, and if they actually do something about it (like support legislation for something I’m vehemently against, for example).
But even in the case of someone like Hitler producing great art – it would still be great art. It might ring hollow of it’s supposed to be about peace or love, but if the appreciation is based in technique, it would still have to be considered technique. In that case, I personally just “opt out.”
It’s another silly comparison, but I did the same with Duck Dynasty. It was a surprisingly funny and fun show I enjoyed when I happened to see it on TV. I had guessed at least some of them had unfavorable views, but they never surfaced on the show, so I accepted it. However, when the views continuously came to light, the fun went away. I couldn’t accept the show in the same way anymore, as everything was colored by the hateful opinions. It doesn’t mean that the show is any different than it was before, it’s just no longer something I’m interested in spending time with.
However, disliking Ansel Adams isn't as bad a transgression as bigotry, so I’ll still cringe next time I like a McGinley photo, but I’ll still enjoy it.