Why is it so hard to separate art from the artist?

Originally published at: Why is it so hard to separate art from the artist? | Boing Boing


It is much easier to separate the art from the artist when the artist is long dead and no longer personally profiting from the art.


The first artist(s) I ever really fell hard for were the Beatles. Their brutal honesty about who they were as fragile, often failed humans helped me understand very early on that despite their talent and fame they were never any more than four young, profoundly talented but otherwise thoroughly human guys; scars and rage and fear and all. John especially was able to be so frank about his own failures as a person both in his art and public life that it gave me a great deal of confidence to approach my life in the same way; to honestly reckon with my failures (and generational trauma) and not let them define who I will be in the future. I’ve always been deeply grateful to him for that.


A challenge with this case in particular has been confronting how many people are totally willing to keep enjoying his matches despite his murders. There isn’t a day on the Squared Circle wrestling reddit where he isn’t brought up in a positive light. WWE for all their faults has landed on never mentioning him again. Their silence has only emboldened his remaining fans.

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Not an easy issue. I have a fair amount of CD’s (nothing streamed) from Eric Clapton and enjoy his work. When it became obvious he’s a raging racist, I had to evaluate my music collection. Right now, I have decided to keep his music (it’s paid for, playing it doesn’t add to his wealth, getting rid of it doesn’t change the financials), never buy any new music (nor more money for you, Eric), and keep the music in rotation. I am able to separate the art from the artist. Who knows, he might have an epiphany and turn his views around.


relevant post from @chgoliz concerning an upcoming Cosby docuseries helmed by W. Kamau Bell


Good example. Clapton and some others are also outspoken assholes regarding the current pandemic, and this makes me want to puke.

I am currently avoiding several artiste due to their pandemic-related skullfuckery, because I cannot separate the person from their work completely. Very time I realise some work has their handwriting, I am reminded that they are fucking arseholes and I do not want to be reminded, constantly, that such arseholes exist everywhere.


I find personally that there’s also a huge difference when the person kind of is the product. So, for the Joss Whedon example in the OP, that’s kind of easier for me to separate. We never see him on the shows, just know he was on set being a pervy abuser. But watching Bill Cosby pretend to be a family man (even though I grew up with that show and loved it) is just out. I can’t watch him anymore.
With music, I think we’re of a mind. I still love a good song, but do my absolute best to make sure I’m in no way enriching the artist if they’re shown to be horrible. Most of the applicable stuff is on vinyl I got from the thrift store in Highschool, anyway, so pretty easy.


There is content that is generally pretty beloved that’s made by shitty people and my love for those things hasn’t changed but i find myself less interested in revisiting it despite my enjoyment of it. There are plenty of other things out there for me to watch and listen to so i rarely find myself conflicted over what i should spend my time on


Of course this makes me think about how we regard Thomas Jefferson. A man who indisputably had great things to say about freedom while actively owning human beings and benefiting from the torture needed to get them to work.


I’d go along with Jesse13927 and suggest evaluating the art produced after the artists’ death, and avoiding their profiting from it while alive.
Humans being what they are, even greatly important ones can be involved in quite bad stuff, even murder sometimes:

(Caravaggio, from Wikipedia)
In such cases we can love the art and kiiind of forget the rest. For people still living the path is less clear, alas.


Yeah, one of the big ones recently for me personally has been Dave Mustaine.
Mind you, he’s always been a hard person to like.
But I’ve always liked his music and appreciated his talent as a guitarist.

Regarding Clapton, thankfully my Dad never had time for him while I was growing up, and was very vocal about him, so I’ve always known he was a racist douchenozzle and something of a plagiarist, whose own music has always been rather middle-of-the-road at best.
Compared to guys like Cooder, Cale, Lightning Hopkins, Magic Sam and Hendrix, his chops aren’t even that impressive.
The guy’s a damn cuckoo.


i think that ultimately, one HAS to learn to separate the art from the artist. as others have pointed out, humans are complicated, messy, and often have terrible views or have done terrible things. Clapton, Van Morrison, Whedon… all have created, said, and done things that are incredibly good and important, but all also have other things which are terrible and reprehensible. If we avoided every person and work who had something terrible about them come to light, we’d run out of people and works to admire.


Or we’d open the creative sphere to a population that typically hasn’t had access…there are plenty of delightful humans out there making art who never get the time of day.


Part of the question is: by what acts do we define a person? Currently, we use the worst acts as the definition of what a person is truly like. Also, how do we apply this metric to people who aren’t creating art, but are also doing monstrous things-soldiers who engage in massacres of civilians for example.
We often hear the phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner”. This creates a false dichotomy between action and actor-without the sinner there would be no sin. Sin isn’t a part of the atmosphere waiting to be inhaled to wreak havoc. But letting one thing define a persons entirety seems reductionist to me.


I can’t think of an example where I have completely abandoned someone’s work due to them being shitty people. I maybe have completely abandoned my fandom of the creator, but I don’t think I have completely abandoned the art, even if some of it has soured. I guess maybe I am lucky that no one I am a fan of has been so heinous as to murder their family, like in the example.

My opinion is that everyone has done bad things in the past and many people are horrible people. Depending how far back in time you go, pretty much everyone will hold beliefs one would find abhorrent today. I am able to compartmentalize and condemn the artists and their actions, while still enjoying and critiquing the art.


I think about the art/artist dichotomy quite a bit. I have come to really dislike the fact that my experience of a piece of art is greatly influenced by how much I know about the artist. I don’t mean this in the sense that the artist’s good or bad deeds changes how I think about the art – it’s more general than that.

In my mind, the more I know about the artist, the more the artist’s work is about the artist, rather than the art itself. I hate that. I want my direct experience of the art to be mine, and not influenced by (or in some cases, dictated by) by the artist. Put more obliquely, the piece of art is mine; it is not the artist’s. So I try, willfully, to erect a very strong “fourth wall” between myself and the artist. The less I know about the artist, the more likely I’ll be able to experience the art on my own terms. I just can’t imagine experiencing art any other way.

I’ll use as a recent example the Canadian band The Weather Station, which I’ve become very enamored with. I of course was curious about the band, so I couldn’t resist reading a couple of interviews with the band’s lead singer and main songwriter Tamara Lindeman. And you know what? She’s pretty awesome – intelligent, eloquent, sensitive, thoughtful. Which is hardly surprising, given that her songwriting is stellar.

All good, right? No. Now when I listen to her songs – those songs that used to be about me have become about her. And of course they’re about her, she wrote them. But now they’re not mine. They’re still truly awesome songs, but they’re not touching me the way they used to. I wish I had resisted.


Sometimes, that one thing becomes who they are. Think Hitler or Jeffrey Dahmer. Extreme examples, but if the thing that a person is defined by indeed takes over WHO they are, then it makes sense to define them by that one thing. Racists, who fully embrace racist ideology, or men who make being misogynistic their entire identity have MADE themselves that one thing.


“Separating the art from the artist is easy for me”

I think that calling separating the art from the artist easy or hard is looking at it wrong.
Sure, I can watch a Roman Polanski movie and ignore the fact that he is a child rapist and a fugitive but fuck that and fuck that guy. I’m not going to waste my time on him not because I can’t separate the art from the artist but because I choose not to. If others make a different decision, that is up to them.