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That question — of whether your work is you and you are your work, regardless of how much you change — recurs frequently. The more it’s asked, the more evasive the certainty of a firm answer. Favorite often begins with the art alone, removed from the bad behavior of the artist, then gradually veers into the trouble, forcing students to reconcile competing feelings. Grades are based mostly on papers and a series of “Love/Hate” debates staged during class. Before the debates, Favorite asks the students to pick a slip of paper from a hat, which tells them if they are for or against an artist. This can lead to a lot of uneasiness. Along with fresh feelings of empathy or accountability.
But really, grade-wise, the conversation is the thing.
One discussion I heard began with “The Catcher in the Rye”; moved off onto J.D. Salinger’s relationships with women far younger than himself; touched on whether war trauma excuses excesses; brought up the trouble with nostalgia; considered R. Kelly; considered Dana Schutz’s 2016 painting of Emmett Till; and ended on whether or not HBO should have scrubbed itself of Louis CK. Someone connected this back to Salinger — has buying his books perpetuated “problematic” ideas about privilege and young people that “don’t need any oxygen in the 21st century”? Someone else said the question reminded them of Kevin Spacey — if we give him screen time again, isn’t it the same as giving him power? Yet, countered another student, a lot of us spend money on Amazon, despite knowing that many of its employees say they are badly treated.
“No one should have iPhones,” a student said plainly, seriously.
“But really how much burden can we take on?” Favorite asked.
Their rabbit holes go deep.