Separating art from the artist, now that we know more than ever – The Cavalier Daily
Many of us experience the depressing feeling of finding out that your favorite artist is, in fact, a terrible person. Sometimes shocking, sometimes predictable, it’s always uncomfortable.
With the overwhelming accessibility of information offered by modern technology, it is more difficult than ever to conveniently ignore the harm done by the individuals who create great art. We have grappled with the complex relationship between art and artist for hundreds of years, but as we become more aware of the people behind the art we love, and more and more concerned with our potential complicity in everything they represent, we question ourselves with increased urgency. . If we know an artist’s crimes but continue to enjoy their work regardless, does this approval of art extend to an implicit approval of the artist? Can we distinguish the two, and if so, how?
Some advocate a total disavowal of the art of any condemnable artist, while others, just as virulent, prescribe a detached mode of analysis that privileges the work itself and minimizes its context. The question of separating art from artist has no simple answer, but there are many factors that can help us critically engage with art once we know its creator’s transgressions.
One consideration in answering the question of separating art from the artist is the extent to which the objectionable qualities of an artist are exhibited in their work. The racial insult in which American writer HP Lovecraft referred to his cat is not a peripheral detail, but simply a real-life example of the racism deeply embedded in his work, including a reference to the “primitive savagery of the demi -sees ”of non-apes. white characters in “The Horror of Red Hook”.
Another consideration is the extent to which engaging in art directly benefits its creator. When an English teacher reads “The Tell-Tale Heart” in class, it is unlikely that this action would have the effect of normalizing author Edgar Allan Poe’s marriage to his 13-year-old first cousin. Yet when Roman Polanski wins a César for Best Director while wanted in the United States for the rape of a 13-year-old girl, that recognition is difficult to justify.
A final consideration, more instinctive than logical, is how an artist’s knowledge informs an audience’s feelings towards their work. While working on “The Shining,” Stanley Kubrick forced Shelly Duvall to work to exhaustion and reflect on personal pain to reinforce the authenticity of the on-screen horror. Can you really appreciate Duvall’s performance when you are aware of the real terror behind his expressive eyes? Many can. However, if that idea makes you uncomfortable, your answer is as legitimate as any critical conversation surrounding the film’s artistic merits, or even any debate over the ethics of celebrating the film despite Kubrick’s mistreatment of the film. its main actress.
Stripping the original question of its complex connotations, the answer is, of course, no. Art does not exist in a vacuum and an artist inevitably leaves traces of his personality even on the most impersonal works.
Yet it is essential that the critical consumption of art is not confused with the simple denial of anything that we find objectionable. There are ways to engage in the work of a morally questionable artist without ignoring his unfortunate qualities, or punishing yourself for your appreciation of his work.
If you are aware of the offensive characteristics of an artist, proceed knowingly. For example, if you are familiar with a writer’s personal misogyny, take note when you come across a negative portrayal of a female character in her work. How does this character relate to what you know about his actual relationships with women and his thoughts on women? Does this character serve an agenda? How far can it be seen as an individual case in relation to an allegorical relic of a patriarchal society, or the artist’s beliefs about gender? The answers to these questions may vary, but asking them helps you consider the ways the artist is reflected in their own work.
Also, beware of the impact of the art you consume. If you spend your whole life absorbing pictures and words created by terrible people, these things will shape you, especially if you accept them without criticism and with a complete rejection of the role of the terrible artist in your experience of their art. . Art is a powerful tool of persuasion in part because the source is somewhat obscured and your subconscious experience is engaged. You may be reluctant to persuade messages when they come out of a politician’s mouth, but when you laugh at a hateful joke on a sitcom, your guard is down. Don’t think you are immune.
It is impossible to completely distinguish the art of the artist, but it is also unnecessary. In fact, if you want to continue consuming the art of a controversial character, it’s crucial not to deny its moral complexity. Instead, when you uncover the artist’s offenses behind a beloved work, take a moment to reflect. Think about how that lines up or deviates from your expectations of who they are based on their art. As you experience their art, notice what comes out now that you have a better understanding of who created it. Discuss and debate it with other ambivalent audience members. Ultimately, you have to trust your own instincts.
The point is not to reject any work of art created by a reprehensible artist. It’s about engaging honestly with the subtle and sinister manifestations of prejudice, violence and hatred in our culture, and affirming or rejecting works of art in context.