I have been asked a lot lately about my view on the recent Toronto Symphony and Valentina Lisitsa situation probably because I was born in Ukraine, lived in Moscow for a while and I am both performer and presenter. Here are a few questions that this situation raises for me:
1. What are the rights and responsibilities of artists when it comes to handling a substantial emotional attachment of their fans? Is it fair for a charismatic performer to exploit openness and vulnerability of a fan to advance a personal agenda? Are they free to use that emotional attachment to endorse products, or recruit fans to their political cause?
2. Can successful artists assume that their depth of understanding of complex political, economic, environmental, medical or religious issues equals their level of expertise in a particular art form by default? In other words, if opinion of a celebrity on the best plumber in your area carries little weight, why should their opinion on a particular political situation should matter anymore than any other non-expert?
3. Do we want art to be one of the few areas in our lives free of political debate? Isn’t art an “equal opportunity enjoyment” and that is one of its most important features? Can’t late Beethoven quartet be simultaneously enjoyed by republican and democrat in the same room?
4. Do we want art organizations to be able to have boundaries against power of donors to influence artistic decisions? Are people who support art to advance their agenda really just paying for extra marketing? Is it always a bad thing, because don’t we still enjoy some fantastic art commissioned by churches or governments of a particular era to support their views?
None of this is simple and anyone with definitive answers makes me a bit suspicious…