Opinion: Can you separate the artist from their art? Should you?
The Answer-Man has returned to his desk after a bout of serious illness. Thought I would answer a philosophical question today rather than a purely comic question, though there is a bit of overlap if you know the controversial artist, Frank Cho.
I am not here to judge (okay, I am but I won’t be judging, today) merely presenting a perspective on a subject people still have trouble with. To support or to not support an artist who has controversial views, habits, statements or predispositions. Should we support artists whose viewpoints do not reflect our own?
Let’s say, You are a person who collects art, whether it be fine art, comic art, or something in between. You have been buying a particular artist’s work for years. You discover the artist you are fond of has a hidden history of misogyny. Okay, maybe it’s not so hidden but you haven’t known anything about it until just now.
What are your obligations as a purchaser of said art, now that you know this?
What if they are a reprehensible individual who says racist things in public? See: Orson Scott Card.
Are you obligated to support them? Should you?
Yes, I called him out because he has said things which made me, super-accepting me consider never buying another work of his ever again as long as he is alive to profit from it. That’s saying something. Back to the questions….
What if an artist is a murderer, but their work is beautiful in a way you can barely describe…should you buy their art? Presumably they are doing art from behind bars…
Is there an ethical obligation to shun, avoid, or even harm artists (economically) when they prove to be anything less than sterling citizens?
Artists are rarely perfect.
Take a few art history classes and you will find most artists are a mixture of the divine and the infernal making them exquisitely, mortally, flawed.
Let’s take one of the greatest artists to have ever lived, Leonardo di Vinci for example: Leonardo narrowly beat a sodomy rap — possibly involving one of his male models levied against him by Florentine officials. Though homosexuality was not technically a crime, such a sexual assault, difficult though it would be to prove was punishable by death. (Wikipedia)
The question you mean to ask is: Should you separate the artist from their art? Should I support an artist who is or has done things I personally disagree with?
This question is a matter of personal relativism; an issue of how you feel about an artist, his views, her behaviors, her belief systems and how much or little they affect how you see their artwork. Over the centuries, Leo tends to get a pass because of the volume of his work, its vision, its scope, its incredible forward-thinking yet inexplicable inventiveness. When historians write about him, some mention his habits, some do not. Given what we know about him, on any given day, we accept he was a mortal man with mortal failings and admire his work, anyway.
It is easy to say an artist is a monster because of Event X, where they show their ass, act out, say terrible things, do terrible things and as such you feel you can never support their work or even look at their work the same way, no matter how it made you feel before.
But for someone else, that art may transport them, transform them, elevate them to a place they may not have been able to get to on their own. We can never know what an artist may inspire with their works.
We never know who may make a decision, a discovery, a creation which changes all of our lives which may come from a man who lives under his house cursing every person who has ever lived, can barely be seen in public without fear and loathing but his touch of the divine, his art, may make us all better despite his internal affliction.
So you have to decide how YOU feel and let each person come to their own conclusion about said artist and said art.
Will I be raw if I discover my favorite science fiction author is an avowed racist? Yes. I came to learn when I read deeper into many of my favorites, they were less than ideal specimens of Humanity and often were racist and misogynistic in the extreme.
But I cannot take away from the fact their creations (free from their particular rantings or even DESPITE those rantings) gave me something I did not have before I read their work.
I have come to accept there are no perfect beings made flesh.
And that for every person who is good or bad, they have both the Yin and their Yang and sometimes a bad person may still make the world a better place with their tiniest bit of good, in the right moment, in the right space, especially if their ART is a transformative one.
I endeavor to be an artist who lives the kind of life that can serve as an example to others, but I know there are plenty of artists where it is their pain, their fear, or their internal angst which drives them to create. Whose internal suffering informs the majesty they create, whose rage at what they believe is inequity creates viewpoints and vistas worth seeing.
Your mileage, of course, may vary. That is the beauty of being Human. The power to choose how we feel about what we see taking place before us.
The power of judgement is yours. Use it wisely.
It’s good to be back. Next week, we’ll tackle something harder. Stay frosty.
Thaddeus Howze is a writer, essayist, author and professional storyteller for mysterious beings who exist in non-Euclidean realms beyond our understanding. You can follow him on Twitter or support his writings on Patreon. (Yes, supporting through Patreon gives him more time to create good stuff like this.) One of the best ways to show you care is to share this story.