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Art vs. the Artist

In thinking about my fellow blogging community, and how we are all intelligent men and women – people who are looking for articulate, intellectual discourse – I realized that the best way to foster that community is to continue to build it.

So, you may see the tag “brunch colloquy” with select posts now. (You can also see what’s included in that tag by clicking the like-named link on the right.) Imagine being at brunch, and having a deep philosophical conversation amongst friends. What would you talk about? What would you say? How lively would you be? That is this tag.

While comments are welcome all the time, it is with these posts that I want to see the conversation happen. I want to know what you think, and I want to have a real conversation about whatever topic with you in the comments section. Please don’t be shy.


This topic is one that I’ve been thinking about ever since I saw Savannah Brown’s YouTube video about it.

I asked Twitter first: Can you separate art from the artist? I was happy at the amount of responses I received on the thread from my friends.

Some of those responses:

“[F]or me it comes down to whether the offending message is conveyed in the art and how that message might be broadcast by me.”

Doesn’t usually bother me unless I dislike them enough that I don’t want to give them my money.” “Yes, but it’s tricky. I don’t have a great system for it. I love Ender’s Game, but the author is a garbage fire.” 

“[L]ike you have to practice what you preach in order for your work to really mean something. if its not, its just hollow.” 

“[A]bsolutely. John Lennon was a fantastic musician who helped shape the future of music. But also a wife-beating homophobe. Soooooo.”

For some, the purpose of still supporting the art despite supporting the artist can depend on what the art has done/does for them or for the craft as a whole. They recognize the faults of the artist’s behavior, but they know that the artists’ art speaks louder than anything else. For others, there is no separation. They can not reconcile supporting the artist knowing what they’ve done. It just wouldn’t sit well on their conscious.

In Savannah’s video, she analyzes a similar response. We’ve all been in a position – or maybe for some of us that time hasn’t come yet – when the art we have grown an identity around, or have found refuge, is derivative of an artist who may be less than perfect or ideal as a role model. And of course, just like all art, these ideas are highly subjective. Yet, when faced with this reality, it can leave one in a personal crisis: What are you supporting when you consume that art? Is it the artist’s behavior and entitlement, or is it the message and intention of the art?

My friend Nathan thinks that changing your consumption based on human error can limit conversation and exposure:

“[…]I don’t like the idea of ostracizing someone whose views I don’t like, it’s… counterproductive. […] The only thing I don’t like are people who are absolutely for or against it. Absolutes paint people into weird moral corners.”

What strikes me as the most provocative of that sentiment is that it falls in line with what I’ve always believed: Life isn’t here to placate you, it’s here to challenge you.

If you live a life without exposure, how can you ever grow or learn as a person? Sure, it’s not easy exposing yourself to something with which you don’t agree – especially if the acts of the artist are heinous – but you also discredit another human the chance to learn themselves, by introducing them to the possibility that they could be wrong.

By exiling an artist from their audience, they lose their connection to the world. If we instead use the energy to reach out, listen to their defense, and be a teacher on both sides, perhaps the self-destructive artist can find refuge within a world they’ve always been distantly creating for. There are no absolutes – not with the human condition, not with art. And as it’s mentioned in the video, the idea that people are inherently evil – or that all intent is malicious – is a false qualifier. There is nuance to anything that we do. Usually those who are doing something destructive aren’t always aware that their intention leads to destruction.

Not all dictators enjoy evil power. From their perspective, they are doing good for the world, they are just willing to do it in a different way than others before them. Does that make them evil? Or does that make them troubled?

There is another side to the argument that Savannah raised, even: Does your answer change if the artist is dead? Think about that before you answer. At that point, where are those funds going? The foundation of the same name? The family of the artist? The manager or producer of a label or brand?

There are so many sides to this argument.

I found that I sided with Savannah in that I want to continue to absorb as much as I can for as long as I can, and so long as there isn’t a direct correlation between the art and the act, I can look at the art separate from the artist. And even still, I want to understand where it’s coming from rather than censor it. After all, we are never guaranteed perfection in art.

What do you think?

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