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Thread: Separating the Artist from the Work

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    Separating the Artist from the Work

    I heard an interesting discussion of this in a podcast, and have talked about it with my kid. To what extent, if any, should we let negative things we know about an artist color our view of their work? Realizing in this context “negative” is a somewhat subjective term.

    Should a history of abusing women and children affect our enjoyment of R Kelly, John Lennon, Woody Allen or Bill Cosby? Or the anti-semitism of Mel Gibson or Wagner? Or if the artist is viewed as a TERF, fascist, communist, atheist, anti-Catholic, jingoist or any other outlook one might take issue with? If someone turned up something negative about Shakespeare, should we stop reading “the Tempest”? I’m not talking about views expressed in the work itself, but the behaviors and attitudes of their creators.

    On the one hand, you could say we should enjoy a work in it’s own right without burdening it with a lot of extraneous baggage. On the other, you might say that choosing to enjoy a particular piece of art is an act of self-creation for which we need to take some level of personal responsibility. It may matter if the artist is living or dead. I don’t think many people care about the personal morals of the people who built the Parthenon. For instance, suppose Hitler was an absolutely brilliant painter. I could see our views of his work being different between 1946 and 2496. Does (or should) time make a difference?

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    You have squeezed a lot of questions into the OP!

    My initial thoughts are that "appreciation" and "support" can be - and maybe should be - two separate things. While I may be able to appreciate a painting by Hitler, that doesn't mean that I support Hitler, either as a person or an artist. These two are not mutually exclusive so it is possible to not appreciate and not support, to support and not appreciate, to not support and appreciate, or appreciate and support.

    Throw "time" into the mix and I think you will often get different answers. People change over time. Experiences, knowledge, etc. often cause the baser "likes" and "dislikes" to change. For example, I used to like the children's singer, Rafi (even as an adult), but now - not so much. My taste in art, literature, even religion, has changed as I have changed. So, yes, I think time CAN make a difference - not necessarily DOES make a difference.

    Really looking forward to reading what others say!
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    Senior Member razz's Avatar
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    People are complex beings, all of us, with warts and strengths. different values, different time frames, degree of notoriety in the public sphere ... To judge another using the same challenges in criteria is tough.

    EG - I attended an exhibit of David Bowie's art with his songs played in the background. I couldn't wait to get out of there. Never interested in him so knew nothing of any warts or strengths but felt it was an uninteresting display of his art, both aural and visual.

    The OP question is a good conversation starter, though.
    As Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

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    I may choose to enjoy aspects of the art, but I'd be unlikely perhaps to pay for it if it was objectionable enough (not that anyone cares if we are talking Shakespeare, I think the copyright has long since expired ). But it's as if I'm otherwise buying art of various sorts all the time? Well no, not really, but if I wanted to I could. Even books it's mostly used though really.
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    Senior Member catherine's Avatar
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    When I go to a museum, I don't ask to see biographies, citizenship grades, rap sheets, or Facebook pages of the artist. I respond to the art. Same for when I read a poem, or see a play.

    A person's character may intentionally or unintentionally be reflected in their art, but that's irrelevant to my personal experience with the work itself.
    "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every, every minute?" Emily Webb, Our Town
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    Senior Member iris lilies's Avatar
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    Before happystuff replied I was thinking that the passing of time has something to do with this.

    I’m sure most of the great artists whose works have stood the test of time were misogynist, sexist, racist, or -IST in some way. Time is a factor here because the art itself stands on its own, outside of the context of our current culture.

    I don’t see how you can separate the artist from his art with contemporary artists. That doesn’t mean that you have to eschew the art of a bad person. It means the artist himself is a factor in today’s world. A couple centuries from now, the “badness “of the person will not be a factor. Unless of course the art is specifically representing something evil.

    Hitler’s landscapes have only survived in interest because of the artist himself, not because of quality of the art.

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    Senior Member Rogar's Avatar
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    I don't think there is a one size fits all, but would separate performing arts compared to static arts. For example, I don't think I could separate Clapton, Cosby, Woody Allen, etc. from their real life persona since their negative image is closely associated with their art. I've never been a fan of Wagner since his music portrays overt power and supremacy, at least to me, but I really don't know a lot about him. In some ways painting and sculpture have a bigger physical separation of art and artist but their artwork may be more likely to reflect each other and would have to go more case by case. I think the further back in time the art goes, the less important.

    There is also the positive side. For example I might like Neil Young for his stance on wars or Andy Goldworthy's environmental sculptures.

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    Senior Member iris lilies's Avatar
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    Wait, why is Eric Clapton negative? I just can’t keep up. “Layla” is one of the top 10 rock ballads ever produced.

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    Senior Member Rogar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by iris lilies View Post
    Wait, why is Eric Clapton negative? I just can’t keep up. “Layla” is one of the top 10 rock ballads ever produced.
    .

    He's an anti-vaxxer. Maybe it doesn't bother his fans, but it bothers me.

    https://www.rollingstone.com/music/m...ments-1239027/

    EDIT: For that matter, what's the deal with John Lennon in the OP? That's a new one for me.

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    Senior Member Teacher Terry's Avatar
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    I guess I missed that John Lennon abused women and children. From what I read he was abused by that nut job Yoko Ono.

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