The infamously cantankerous Sun Kil Moon frontman Mark Kozelek added yet another controversy to his name on 1 June 2015. While performing at London’s Barbican venue, Kozelek openly called out journalist Laura Snapes on stage, using misogynistic language—sadly, to the glee of his audience. Snapes later wrote about the incident for the Guardian. This incident no doubt triggered questions about just how much people continue to put up with Kozelek’s grouchy old man routine, particularly as it continues to rear its sexist and homophobic head. More interestingly, however, is the way in which his behavior plays into the immortal query in the realm of aesthetics: “Can you separate art from the artist?” Is it easy for people to make Sun Kil Moon’s Benji one of the most acclaimed albums of 2014 knowing Kozelek’s public persona?
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Theoretically, if a work of art is bad, we will view or listen to it only once and never return to it again; after all, if it is truly bad, why would anyone want to spend additional time with it? Yet dozens of films fall under the umbrella of “so-bad-it’s-good”, where a film’s badness becomes the very reason why we enjoy it. From the terrible direction, performances, and editing of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room to the apocalyptic nonsense of Southland Tales, so-bad-it’s-good cinema offers moviegoers the chance to have fun at the expense of itself.
Excerpted from “Hubble’s Greatest Hits”, by Timothy Ferris. Full article in National Geographic, April 2015, on newsstands now. Copyright © 2015. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Photos courtesy of Zoltan Levay, the imaging team leader at Space Telescope Science Institute and National Geographic. See more photos for this article here on National Geographic.
It didn’t amount to much at first.
Credit: National Geographic
Launched into orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990, amid flurries of hope and hype, the Hubble Space Telescope promptly faltered. Rather than remaining locked on its celestial targets, it trembled and shook, quaking like a photophobic vampire whenever sunlight struck its solar panels. Opening its protective front door to let starlight in perturbed the telescope so badly that it fell into an electronic coma. Worst of all, Hubble turned out to be myopic. Its primary light-gathering mirror, eight feet in diameter and said to be the smoothest large object ever fashioned by humans, had been figured perfectly wrong.
Everyone has their favorites. That general rule holds true even for critics, with all their high-minded ideas about what art can be and their five-dollar words. Over time, it’s natural that some artists become Great Artists, those who never fail to get critics riled up every time they announce a new release. In the present day, artists such as Kanye West and David Lynch have culled rabidly devoted fanbases that will seemingly praise whatever they put out for the world to see or hear.
When Kanye West almost grabbed the microphone from Beck at the 2015 Grammys, the audience—to say nothing of the large international audience watching the show—held its breath. Although West didn’t say anything at that time, he did later go on to lambast the Grammys for giving the (ostensibly) coveted Album of the Year award to Beck for Morning Phase over Beyoncé, whose self-titled LP was one of the juggernaut releases of the previous year. West claimed that the Grammys didn’t respect “true artistry”. This leads to the obvious question: have the Grammys, or for that matter any other major awards ceremony, ever used “true artistry” as their main metric? Would it even be possible for them to do so?