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Art Vs. Artist

Recommended Posts


I'll put this simply at the top to avoid a TL;DR, and partly because I don't know how long I'll be going on for - is it truly possible to separate the art from the artist? Is it okay to enjoy art from bad people? Why or why not?


For as long as there have been artists, there have been people committing atrocities, and I don't say that lightly. Through-out history, we've seen scores of gifted, talented and otherwise revered individuals that have behaved badly to the point that they've completely demolished their reputation, their careers and their life. You can pick almost any avenue of art, and you'll be met with examples that challenge how you feel about their work going forwards.


The question is, do the crimes by artists diminish their work? Michael Jackson, Rolf Harris, Ian Watkins, Harvey Weinstein, Gary Glitter, Roman Polanski, Phil Spector... to what degree do their crimes alter our enjoyment? How is it we can be completely aware of what they've done, but also be completely on board with enjoying their music, movies or product? I'm not saying this because I think we shouldn't, but I'm very curious as to how you feel. You could argue that their legacy has nothing to do with how they are as a person, and that just because somebody is a bad person it doesn't mean their work is. You might feel guilty for supporting them knowing everything that they've done, but this is softened when you learn often the artist isn't entitled to a single penny - in fact, in rare cases you'll find their material completely hidden from popular consumption.


How do you personally separate the art from artist? Is it wrong to form an opinion of a work of art from somebody who is a paedophile, a murderer, a rapist, an abuser, a racist? Where do we draw the line?


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Awful Waffle
48 minutes ago, Rhoda said:

How do you personally separate the art from artist?

it's pretty easy.

you just don't think about the "bad" stuff. why would you think about it? what does that serve?


Michael Jackson made great music.

The Pianist was a beautifully directed film.

Miramax produced unforgettable movies.

Spector's footprint on the 1960's and 70's is indelible.


the music is still great.

the film is still beautiful.

the movies are still unforgettable.

the influence cannot be undone.


it is what it is.

you don't have to approve of the individual in order to consume their work. especially when the work has nothing to do with the individual. if listening to Thriller reminds you of pedophilia it's likely because you were a victim. nothing about the song makes you think about it otherwise. does watching Adrien Brody run through a bombed out WW2 hellscape remind you of anal sex? there's no connection here unless you're going out of your way.


the real question is not whether or not it's ok to enjoy the work.

the question should be whether or not it's ok for them to profit from it. maybe all the money they made should've instead gone to victim's charities. that's an argument we can actually have.

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You can't seperate the art from the artist. But every one of us has a dark side. A lot of art is exactly an exploration of the dark side of human nature. In rock music this is obvious.


The pyramids were built by slaves, but we still respect them as great pieces of art. There is nothing that is unambiguously beautiful without at the same time being complex or dark in some way. Extreme demands of moral purity are oppressive and destructive. Moralization and politicization are often hostile to beauty.

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i enjoyed the first five seasons of house of cards

then the allegations came forward

do i now have to un-enjoy it? I suppose so.

Well, im not watching it again, anways, since i cant watch things where i know the plot. 

Edited by uq7451
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  • 4 weeks later...
On 4/27/2020 at 7:36 PM, Eutyphro said:

The pyramids were built by slaves

The pyramids were built by paid labor unlike the alternate Hollywood history tells. Search and be surprised.


I've never heard anyone banning their Ford, just because he was one of the biggest funders of Hitler.



Edited by Graven
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I'm not an expert on ancient civilizations really, but definitely up until the 19th century slave labor was the norm. That's a historical fact. It's highly unlikely that any large ancient construction project was not built with slave labor. For most of human history people were expendable means to an end. The idea that beauty or greatness is necessarily moral is historically false. And by moral, I mean moral according to our 21st century experience of civilized life. You can have a whole seperate discussion about to what extent morality is historically or culturally relative.

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If that movie was anything to go by, NWA were producing art that reflected their world, and the FBI/authorities said it was disturbing the peace, or something.

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Awful Waffle
On 5/22/2020 at 12:54 PM, Graven said:

I've never heard anyone banning their Ford, just because he was one of the biggest funders of Hitler.

don't forget Walt Disney supported the Nazi party.

guess it's time to dismantle all of the Disney theme parks and throw all of the Disney movies into a lake of fire.


come to think of it... destroying all Disney media might actually be a good thing for our culture in general :lol:

Edited by Awful Waffle
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3 hours ago, Awful Waffle said:

don't forget Walt Disney supported the Nazi party.

guess it's time to dismantle all of the Disney theme parks and throw all of the Disney movies into a lake of fire.


come to think of it... destroying all Disney media might actually be a good thing for our culture in general :lol:

Also Hugo Boss made uniforms for the nazis.

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  • 4 months later...

Aristotle, Plato and most Greek philosophers practiced pedophilia. Yet their teachings are taught in schools and they are regarded as some of the brightest minds of Ancient Greece. 


Thomas Jefferson was one of the founding members of what is the United States today, yet he had a long and totally non-consensual relationship with Sally Hemings, a slave.


Roald Dahl was an anti-semite, yet I don't see anyone rushing to remove his books from the grasp of little children!


It just proves that most will separate the author from their creation if it suits them. The education system does it, the government does it, the media does it. When have you ever saw a T-Shirt of Che Guevara which highlights all of the terrible war crimes he committed? 

Edited by Heisenberg_
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To the extent that art is an expression of individual creativity, it isn't possible to separate the two.  This doesn't mean that biographical details of an author's life will necessarily appear in the work, but any art worth anything is imbued with something of a personal vision that can can't come from anywhere other than its author. Ideally and in the realm of pure aesthetics, yes, the work of art has to be looked at as an autonomous entity, but authors' existence in the world is inherently political, and that political existence pervades every aspect of a person's life, including their artistry. The issue is more relevant when it comes to living artists, and in the case of people who have committed horrendous crimes, it's totally valid to raise the question of whether they should be allowed to work at all. The Pianist wouldn't have been such a brilliant film if the whole theme of antisemitism and the Nazi regime in particular weren't a deeply personal one for Polanski. That idea seems to accept that it isn't possible to divorce the artist from the work of art. On the other hand, saying Polanski is a pedophile isn't an aesthetic criticism of Chinatown or whatever else as a work of art, but it is a very valid way to argue that he shouldn't be active or free at all and should be prosecuted. His latest film is (declaredly) trying to make some bizarre parallel between historical antisemitism and Polanski's hurt fee fees over people holding him accountable for having raped a child, so it doesn't sound like the man himself is trying to unlink anything.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Ned Bingham

Discuss the lives of artists if you want. Write their biographies and expose their sins and peccadillos? Sure. But don't ever consider banning their works. Doing so would lead us down the path to crushing boredom and the Nanny Fanny state.  I don't want to live live in a world where the the only meaningful expression consists of making keening noises and complementing each other's hair styles. Catch my meaning?

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mr quick

Doesn't it depend on how much of the artist is in the art? I don't find Louis CK funny anymore, because his art/artist persona is he, the person. On the other hand, I doubt Harry Potter will relinquish its popularity (although one may hope) because JK Rowling is an idiot, because her childish transphobia isn't in her work. I can still find beauty in some of Hamsun's writing, even though he was a Nazi. Which part of the art is the artist? 


I'm having a hard time with Cory Henry lately. His work is music, which is interpretable a thousand ways. How do I react to him saying some ridiculous sh*t on Instagram about the Covid-19 virus being fake or part of some conspiracy? It bears no direct relevance to his work, although it's hard to make the distinction when it's something as abstract and subjective as music. Surely, the work is he, personally? 


A great anecdotal example is Arnulf Øverland's "Du Må Ikke Sove" from 1936. Øverland was a communist poet, and this poem, "You must not sleep", is a warning against fascism, even including Hitler by name. This poem is historically important in this country, and most people here can quote at least one passage - usually this one: 


You cannot permit it! You dare not, at all.
Accepting that outrage on all else may fall!


Unfortunately some of the poetry is lost in translation, but the point remains. Anti-communism is, though not explicitly, equally part of the curriculum. Yet, people quote this antifascist piece all the time. I'd argue that most people are simply unaware of the writer's views. Hilariously, I've seen people quote this as an argument FOR the very things against which Øverland warned! 

My favorite, usually forgotten part, is "Do not forgive them, they know what they do". 


Lindsay Ellis has a great couple of videos on the subject too. It's such a difficult subject. 


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  • 2 weeks later...

Any mention of art and the artist would be incomplete without Roland Barthes' 1967 essay, Death of the Author, which directly addresses the problem of artistic intent and the connection of art and its artists. I'll quote the end here (emphasis my own):



In this way is revealed the whole being of writing: a text consists of multiple writings, issuing from several cultures and entering into dialogue with each other, into parody, into contestation; but there is one place where this multiplicity is collected, united, and this place is not the author, as we have hitherto said it was, but the reader: the reader is the very space in which are inscribed, without any being lost, all the citations a writing consists of; the unity of a text is not in its origin, it is in its destination; but this destination can no longer be personal: the reader is a man without history, without biography, without psychology; he is only that someone who holds gathered into a single field all the paths of which the text is constituted. This is why it is absurd to hear the new writing condemned in the name of a humanism which hypocritically appoints itself the champion of the reader’s rights. The reader has never been the concern of classical criticism; for it, there is no other man in literature but the one who writes. We are now beginning to be the dupes no longer of such antiphrases, by which our society proudly champions precisely what it dismisses, ignores, smothers or destroys; we know that to restore to writing its future, we must reverse its myth: the birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the Author


The essay is about the literary climate of its time and is a seminal work of postmodernism, but to simplify drastically: meaning is derived by the audience more fundamentally than the artist. In other words, we collectively control what is derived from the art created by artists.


This may sound like a get-out-of-jail free card, but it's the opposite. Instead of emphasizing the biographical context of the author of any given work, we must instead parse through and create a coherent meaning to us. That is to say that your own morality is what will affect how you view the actions of artists who are particularly sh*tty. Does that meaningfully answer your question? No, but I wanted to bring that up before I continued.


In regards to how I deal with great works of art created by artists, I tend to fall into a simple rationale: if I am monetarily supporting a living person through buying their art, they must meet my requirements. Put it simpler: I ain't buying a book by no Nazis. What if they're dead? Yeah, well, who cares at that point? By appreciating art we are engaging with it and creating our perspective. If the actions of an artist are sufficiently awful, then it's much easier to address that if they're dead.

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  • 2 months later...

The bad things an artist does can be completely different. You need to take into account their motive and circumstances.


For me personally, an artist and art are inseparable. I do not treat creativity as a fastfood, so the personality of the artist is also important to me. For example, I can't  listen to the music of a complete asshole, even if it is of high quality and pleasant to me.

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