Art and the Artist


There's a rather harrowing open letter up at the New York Times from Dylan Farrow. It in, Farrow details the sexual abuse charges she leveled against Woody Allen a couple decades back. It is, frankly, disturbing:

when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies.

Chilling, disturbing, horrifying: pick your adjective. It's hard to read. The question, then, is a simple one: Does this change how we should view the artist?

Personally, it doesn't change the way I view his work. As someone who has never particularly cared for his films I've not been faced with the moral conundrum of having to turn a blind eye to the fact that he has been accused of being a kiddie toucher or ignore the creepiness of a man marrying the adopted teenage daughter of his middle-aged lover.

Given the the sort of themes that run throughout his work, however, Farrow's accusation has to impact the way we view Woody Allen, The Artist. Right? On Twitter, Michael Brendan Dougherty made the point that Match Point "is a film about an entitled, rich adulterer turned murderer—the chilling theme is ‘There’s no guilt, expiation, or punishment.'" It is, he writes, "the anti-Dostoyevsky story where the protagonist gets away with sexual/other crimes because there’s no God." This is to say nothing, of course, of the fact that Woody Allen, playing a 42 year old, spends most of Manhattan dating a 17-year-old girl.

Then again, it's important to not get sucked too far down this rabbit hole. As Alan Jacobs notes in a reply to Dougherty, it can be dangerous to use the artist's work as evidence against him. "I also think it's a way of thinking that leads to deep misreadings of books, poems, movies, etc.," he writes.

Perhaps it's an inappropriate question to even be asking. Perhaps revulsion with Allen and pity for Dylan Farrow should be enough; it's kind of gross to even consider art at a time like this.

Then again, his peers continue to fete him, top actors continue to want to work with him, and his industry continues to shower awards on him. Should they be shamed into avoiding him? Should Hollywood studios be badgered into cutting the creep loose? How would Cate Blanchett and Louis CK answer Farrow's question? Should they be forced to?