Many artists are eccentric, contrary, even offensive, subversive or transgressive.
Living on the edge in behavior and thinking, they are even expected to be “law-breakers” or at least “envelope-pushers.” And divergent thinking and action can fuel creativity and even positive social change.
But there is also the issue of morality and out of bounds, “bad” behavior that is unacceptable to the majority.
And at a certain level of talent and celebrity, bad behavior seems to get “excused” to a degree.
For example, entertainment industry executives, and even fellow actors, may enable drug and alcohol abuse by “stars” – unless their behavior gets too “out of control.” Robert Downey Jr. was “indulged” for years because of his exceptional acting talent.
So what about director Roman Polanski, recently arrested in Zurich, Switzerland, three decades after fleeing the U.S. to avoid sentencing?
In 1977 he was arrested in Los Angeles and pled guilty to unlawful sex with a minor. Released after a 42-day psychiatric evaluation in 1978, Polanski moved to France. [Photo from 1979.]
A number of notable filmmakers including Harvey Weinstein, Debra Winger, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, and Woody Allen have signed a petition calling for Polanski to be freed by Swiss authorities immediately.
What are these people thinking?
Yes, Polanski is very talented and has directed a number of outstanding films including Rosemary’s Baby, The Pianist and – one of my favorites – Chinatown.
But Polanski drugged and raped a 13-year old girl and did not face a court of law. Does his talent excuse him from justice or prosecution?
In his post Evil and Creativity: Does Talent Redeem Bad Behavior? (on his Psychology Today blog Evil Deeds), clinical and forensic psychologist Dr. Stephen Diamond raises some provocative questions about Polanski: “…in his own mind, did he view himself as a child molester vindicated by his vocation, status and talent?
“There is some reason to believe that Polanski didn’t feel, then or now, that he did anything wrong as a forty-something-year-old man having sex with a thirteen-year-old girl.
“He may feel himself to be the victim of a puritanical, erotically repressed, uptight, almost Victorian American morality with which he, as a European, avant-garde artist, disagrees, a rebellious, Promethean breaker of cultural sexual taboo.
“He and some of his colleagues may not consider what he did a serious crime or evil deed at all. Or, even if it was, feel that his creative contributions to society far outweigh and overshadow this perhaps isolated and relatively ‘minor’ transgression.
“Can the presence of creativity preclude or transcend evil? Are artists above or beyond doing evil? Does their creativity vindicate or give license to their evil deeds? Or merit special considerations and treatment?”
Do his movies reflect his moral views?
Reed Johnson thinks his work illuminates his morality. In his LA Times essay Roman Polanski, through his own lens, he writes, “Polanski’s vision of the ethical laws governing the universe is anything but reassuring. In his movies, justice and logic ultimately have little to do with an individual’s fate.
“Crime and punishment are dished out more or less arbitrarily. Survival is fluky, freakish and often paid for with drastic moral compromises.”
To counterbalance evil
Dr. Diamond adds in his post, “Creativity, talent or genius cannot be unequivocally equated only with good–though the one is commonly perceived to include the other.
“On the contrary, no quantity of creativity, no matter how colossal or prodigious, can ever preclude evil. Even the creative genius is responsible for his or her bad behavior. But what creativity can do is counterbalance evil, both in one’s self and in the world.”
And, he adds, “This is no small matter. While such culturally and intellectually enriching contributions can’t be used to minimize the evil an artist like Polanski, Pollock or Picasso–or anyone–might do, some of it inevitably comes with the extraordinary and often torturous emotional territory explored by true artistic genius.”
The Psychology of Creativity: redeeming our inner demons – interview article with Stephen A. Diamond, Ph.D.
Audio podcast: Stephen A. Diamond, PhD on Anger and Creativity