Love The Art, Hate The Artist?

Frideswide

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I'm interested in how much people can or should divorce the creator from creator.

My particular fortean interests mean that I sometimes want to possess a physical think, or support a concert or whatever, and the creator is someone I really don't want to endorse.

I've recently gone back to listening to a composer having had my enjoyment curtailed by knowing about the politics.

I've got the chance to buy some wood engravings/etchings by an artist where I love the work but the private life is a huge cringe (and then some).

One of the best fortean fiction writers I know (and who helped to get me into it!) is a convicted child abuser.

Anyone else with this quandary? I haven't put names in (all three are firmly dead though) for possible legal reasons.
 
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Mrs Migs

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I really struggle with this… one of my favourite ever Arthurian retellings is totally marred since I learned of the allegations of child abuse against the author. And the fact she endorsed her husband’s relationship with an underage boy. I’d love to be able to divorce the two, but just can’t.
I envy those who can.
 

Frideswide

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I really struggle with this… one of my favourite ever Arthurian retellings is totally marred since I learned of the allegations of child abuse against the author. And the fact she endorsed her husband’s relationship with an underage boy. I’d love to be able to divorce the two, but just can’t.
I envy those who can.

Oh my! yes, I think I know who you mean. That's exactly it.

*offers virtual hug*
 

Frideswide

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No names named and no guessing games about identities, please.

The general topic of liking the art but not the artist is fair game as long as it stays general in scope.

even the dead?

I'll change my OP.
 

Tunn11

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Interesting dilemma. Also applies to sports people, are they forgiven if the offence doesn’t involve performance enhancing illegalities? Could those illegalities enhance the creative processes in art and literature. Is there a difference between a runner taking steroids and an artist taking LSD?

If is some other offence such as hinted at in Frideswide’s original post, are they forgiven if they’ve “done the time”?
I once tried to organise an event to promote/sell copies of a book of poems by prisoners. They were all on the basic theme of “prison ain’t nice so don’t do the crime” and the proceeds were going to Great Ormand St. However no one wanted to know as they thought it would be bad publicity for us.

I can see both sides of that.
 

Tunn11

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Another thought: what about all those artists where we don't know anything about them, from the guy(s) who created the lascaux cave paintings to Banksy?
 

Frideswide

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Another thought: what about all those artists where we don't know anything about them, from the guy(s) who created the lascaux cave paintings to Banksy?

And does distance lend enhancement to the view? at least one canon classical painter is probably a murderer according to official hagiographies biographies.
 

JahaRa

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I really struggle with this… one of my favourite ever Arthurian retellings is totally marred since I learned of the allegations of child abuse against the author. And the fact she endorsed her husband’s relationship with an underage boy. I’d love to be able to divorce the two, but just can’t.
I envy those who can.
I think that's why I don't want to know anything about the authors of my favorite novels. I don't care to know anything about any actors in any movie I enjoy either. I grew up next door to a pedophile who was an artist. I remember looking at his stuff at the age of 8 and wondering who would buy his stuff. It had nothing to do with his proclivities with little girls, it was awful art. So, if I see art I like, I don't research the artist, just buy the art if I can afford it. The only artists I know anything about are my dear friends who are beautiful people who create beautiful art.
 

Mythopoeika

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I rather like some of this artist's work, like this example:
Image-Dadd_-_Fairy_Feller%27s.jpg


Sadly, the artist went mad and killed his dad.
 

Endlessly Amazed

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I'm interested in how much people can or should divorce the creator from creator.

My particular fortean interests mean that I sometimes want to possess a physical think, or support a concert or whatever, and the creator is someone I really don't want to endorse.

I've recently gone back to listening to a composer having had my enjoyment curtailed by knowing about the politics.

I've got the chance to buy some wood engravings/etchings by an artist where I love the work but the private life is a huge cringe (and then some).

One of the best fortean fiction writers I know (and who helped to get me into it!) is a convicted child abuser.

Anyone else with this quandary? I haven't put names in (all three are firmly dead though) for possible legal reasons.

Thanks, Frideswide, for starting this discussion. It is something I have wrestled with most of my life. I hope others weigh in.

I view these sorts of personal quandaries as an opportunity to practice compassion - which is not to say I am very good at this! Everyone has a history of both good and bad actions against others. Some bad actions are so harmful that I view the actor as generally a bad person, and not as a challenged person or an ordinary person who did some bad things.

Some bad things are so repugnant to me that if I think (or believe or know or assume or...) a person has committed these actions, even if I originally liked the person's work, I will now not be able to enjoy it. For some artists, I researched and found a more contextualized view of the actions which allowed me to once again enjoy the work.

A difference for me is my interaction either benefitting or not benefitting the artist. For example, enjoying something on the radio for free is ok; buying a CD - not ok because the artist will benefit. Since I almost never buy original artwork, this is easy.

If I benefit from something from a tainted source, I contribute an equal amount to a charity devoted to the victims of the taint. An example of this, not related to art, but which can be applied to it: a portion of my stock mutual fund investments are in industries which I think do damage to some groups of people. With the year-end statements, I try to figure out how much I profited from this misery and donate that amount to the appropriate charity. This in itself is a leap down the rabbit hole, but it forces me to realize how lucky I am and the price of that luck.

So, applying this to artwork: one could buy the print, and then donate an equal amount to a charity with a mission of cleaning up the artist's type of mess: child abuse, domestic violence, racism, etc.
 

Mikefule

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This is a difficult question. I see that @EnolaGaia has asked us to name no names, and I fully understand why. However, this makes it difficult to give contrasting examples.

I can think of three badly-behaved musical artists straight away whose work I see differently.

The first I thought of was a pop/rock star from the 70s convicted of multiple child sex offences. I have a genuine problem with the conflict between their 10 or so top 10 hit singles sounding exactly as good as they did at the time, but not being able to separate the behaviour of singer from the enjoyment of the songs. I very seldom listen to that artist's songs any more, whoever they are, and whenever I do, I feel slightly guilty.

The second I thought of was an individual member of one of the biggest bands in rock and roll history, who in his 50s married a girl over 30 years younger than him, with whom he had fallen in love when she was under age. I still listen to and enjoy that band unashamedly, although I was shocked and disgusted when I read about this particular detail.

The third will be less well known to most of you: one of the earliest generation of rock and rollers whose personal life has been liberally spattered with multiple instances of bigamy, and alleged domestic abuse, and general poor behaviour. Somehow in his case, I feel able to completely separate his off stage private behaviour from his brilliant musical legacy.

Why do I draw these distinctions? I can perhaps only offer a flimsy post hoc rationalisation:

The first was undoubtedly a serial abuser of vulnerable young girls who exploited his fame and stage persona as a way of gaining influence over them.

The second I can somehow see as a "mid life crisis": a genuine but deeply misguided relationship in which he cared enough to marry her, although it quickly went wrong. Also, why go off a whole band because one former member behaved badly?

The third, I don't justify the behaviour, but I do see the man as a "product of his time and place". He came from a background where at the time, such behaviour was, if not the norm, at least part of "what went on". Having read about his life, I understand that he has been racked by guilt about the conflict between his life as a sinner, and his sincere belief in the old-time religion of his youth.

I can also think of one favourite humorous writer who made some terrible misjudgements which led to them being seen by many as a traitor. On balance, it seems they may simply have been naive or misguided. Either way, there is no discernible connection between their alleged treason and their excellent output as a writer.

In theory, it should be possible to separate the private lives and actions of any artist completely from their artistic output except if it is clear that their artistic output in some way reflects or promotes something egregious in their personal behaviour or attitudes.

In practice, there is no law that says I have to be rational or consistent!
 

Tunn11

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We know quite a lot about Banksy. Not a whiff of anything sordid.
Sorry, bad example, I wasn't suggesting there was. A better example would have been the many anonymous works where we know nothing about their creators. I don't have anything on the creators of the lascaux cave paintings either :)
 

Sharon Hill

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I can think of many many instances of musical artists that I struggle with. So does the public. You don't hear the songs from one of the most famous pop albums in history anymore. It's really tough to divorce those feelings of disgust from the work.

The same can be said for some scientists as well. Nobody is perfect but some are worse than others.

I don't think you should discard the work. But I probably won't want to pay them for it anymore.
 

Endlessly Amazed

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And does distance lend enhancement to the view? at least one canon classical painter is probably a murderer according to official hagiographies biographies.
Yeah, that guy is one of my favorites. Thank God I'm not a billionaire so I can't buy his work from the Tate and then have to donate $300M to charity :)
 

Mikefule

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I really struggle with this… one of my favourite ever Arthurian retellings is totally marred since I learned of the allegations of child abuse against the author. And the fact she endorsed her husband’s relationship with an underage boy. I’d love to be able to divorce the two, but just can’t.
I envy those who can.
I know it's not the retelling that you mean, but there is more than one possible candidate to be the Sir Thomas Malory who wrote La Morte d"Arthur. The most likely candidate wrote the book while in prison accused of theft, banditry, kidnapping, 2 counts of rape, and 1 attempted murder.

It is known that Malory changed allegiance during the Wars of the Roses and we may never know how much his imprisonment reflected the objective facts or merely the politics of the time. However, as most 15th century knights were never imprisoned on multiple charges of such a serious nature, we can reasonably infer that he "must have been a wrong 'un" despite the pious aspects of his written work.
 

Tunn11

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I can think of many many instances of musical artists that I struggle with. So does the public. You don't hear the songs from one of the most famous pop albums in history anymore. It's really tough to divorce those feelings of disgust from the work.

The same can be said for some scientists as well. Nobody is perfect but some are worse than others.
Operation paperclip a moral can of worms.
 

Frideswide

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great posts @Mikefule

I can also think of one favourite humorous writer who made some terrible misjudgements which led to them being seen by many as a traitor. On balance, it seems they may simply have been naive or misguided. Either way, there is no discernible connection between their alleged treason and their excellent output as a writer.

This one, I agree with your conclusion. It's one where I feel that the distance lending enchantment effect comes in. When it first happened it was all so raw...
 

Kondoru

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Most artists I have met have been dodgy sorts

And egoists as well.

People like that are often crooks.
 

JamesWhitehead

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The classic case is Richard Wagner.

Nurtured first on Ernest Newman's Wagner Nights, which created the hunger, then gorging on borrowed library sets of recordings, from the age of 15, I enjoyed his works in near-perfect ignorance of his demonic reputation.

I had heard all of Beckmesser and Mime and Alberich, without twigging that they are said to be Jewish caricatures!

The Bayreuth Industry was hitched to the Hitler band-wagon, when it seemed profitable, without a doubt and Wagner was virulently antisemitic. Parsifal can be read as an attempt to purify Christianity from its Jewish roots but should such interpretations totally define and delimit the works of an astonishing composer? :thought:
 

MercuryCrest

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I've had this issue with a few authors over many years and my take-away is this:

Choose your battles.

It's similar with boycotting companies. Yes, there are some companies where I will go without rather than purchase their products. However, if I boycotted everything/everyone that was somehow connected to something bad, I'd have to go live in a cave and eat bugs for dinner.

The guilt-feeling, I find, seems to be associated with the thought-line of, "Well, if I enjoy this person's work, I'm tacitly supporting their beliefs and/or actions." I think we should do away with that line of thinking, but I believe that it mostly comes from being empathic, which is not a bad trait to have.
 

kesavaross

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I've had this issue with a few authors over many years and my take-away is this:

Choose your battles.

It's similar with boycotting companies. Yes, there are some companies where I will go without rather than purchase their products. However, if I boycotted everything/everyone that was somehow connected to something bad, I'd have to go live in a cave and eat bugs for dinner.

The guilt-feeling, I find, seems to be associated with the thought-line of, "Well, if I enjoy this person's work, I'm tacitly supporting their beliefs and/or actions." I think we should do away with that line of thinking, but I believe that it mostly comes from being empathic, which is not a bad trait to have.
We don't even know what dark secrets those who are close to us are hiding, or work colleagues or friends or even family members. We only know of those who have been caught and it being publicised in some way either via MSM down to the local newspaper.

I was shocked to find the brother of a good friend of mine was a paedophile. He was tried and convicted in court a few years ago. I can give a link should anyone want it. I'd met the brother numerous times and had him down as a nice sociable bloke. I can give other examples as well of just seemingly ordinary people who I knew who have committed serious crimes.

It therefore stand to reason that the same must apply to famous artists, etc. There still must be some, who as yet, who are famous, both present and in the past, who haven't been found out and some who may never be caught.

How would I then view the work of those found out, I honestly don't know. What about those who never got caught out or who are still living but not yet been found out about? There seems to be no rule book about this. Does the person's horrific past crimes change a great piece of art or a sculpture, for example? It's still a great art piece. Yet the person who done it was evil? That to me is a philosophical question I cannot answer.

Edit: Trying to get what I mean to read coherantly but failing. It's late, I'm tired. Sorry.
 
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James_H

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I'm fine with it most of the time, but where is gets more complicated is when the dodgy aspect of the artist's life becomes a (n essential) component of the artwork.

Case one: a late romantic operatic composer, unusually anti-semitic for his time, wrote amazing music, but some of the characters in his dramas are manifestations of anti-jewish stereotypes.

Case two: seminal 'eldritch' horror writer whose obsession with race and the 'corruption' of 'pure' blood lines formed a central theme in his work.

In both cases, the work wouldn't be the same without the artists' racism, which makes adds more caveats to appreciating the artwork.
 

kesavaross

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I'm sorry. I'm simple. I'm not going for the sympathy vote, I actually am simple. I'm quite happy to be so. I don't understand your case one and case two scenarios. I don't know who you are on about so I can't look them up.

In fact this whole thread, I think I get it. I'm not sure though.

My two pennies worth:

Alf Garnet in Till Death Us do Part. For those younger, it was an late 60's and early 70's weekly comedy program of this self opinionated ignorant bastard that was a perfect example of pure racism. The main character was a bigoted racist nasty piece of work, who treated his wife like dirt, using language that now can't be shown on tv. The program was a portrayal of that type of person who existed and still exists, albeit to a lessor extent, yet for some reason, instead of saying this is a great example of those types of people, it cannot ever be shown on on tv because of the content.

It's a classic case or irony in modern day society.

Edit,: I'm having a 'comma' night tonight. Too many commas in this and other postings. I can't seem to avoid it.
 
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EnolaGaia

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I'm fine with it most of the time, but where is gets more complicated is when the dodgy aspect of the artist's life becomes a (n essential) component of the artwork. ...
Case two: seminal 'eldritch' horror writer whose obsession with race and the 'corruption' of 'pure' blood lines formed a central theme in his work.
... the work wouldn't be the same without the artists' racism, which makes adds more caveats to appreciating the artwork.

The big problem in stating a general opinion on this subject is that it always seems to come down to taking a position on whether the artist (broadly defined) was:

- projecting a distasteful or unacceptable attitude (motif; stance; etc.) as something the artist embraces and is promoting through the artwork (broadly defined)

... versus ...

- incorporating or touching on elements of a distasteful or unacceptable attitude (etc.) as something the artist personally "taps into" or "plays on" so as to enrich the artwork's descriptiveness, vividness, impact, etc., etc.

I mention the latter / second version owing to the random thought that an artist tapping into own memories or emotions is (e.g.) part and parcel of the Strasburg branch of method acting.

Could it be that some artists are tapping into - and perhaps deliberately amplifying - dark emotional orientations from memory or repressed personal interest as a means to add or exploit intensity in whatever they're creating? Is the darkness part of them personally or something more like an available option in their "palettes"?

How can you tell to what extent(s) the horror author (Case Two) was:

- deliberately inserting his own intense racist orientation(s);
- passively reflecting the lax attitude toward such racism in his surroundings; and / or ...
- leveraging aspects of his inner emotions / turmoil concerning race as a self-energizing methodological tactic ...

... in crafting the disturbing "edginess" that made his work notable?
 

Yithian

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Love the art, hate the artist.

But only art?

I'm not sure whether it's a peculiarly modern urge to desire a personal link between artist and audience as opposed to one between viewer and artwork.

In the absence of concrete biographical information (I recently posted a bear carved of amber from the Mesolithic—the artist has been lost to prehistory), is the stronger tendency to emotionally connect with the artwork in isolation, or to reconstruct an implied author from the work and its context and foist emotions on the fictional construct? @James_H ?

Certainly, if the inventor of, say, the flush toilet, turned out to be an extreme bastard, most people would feel no compunction to return to pits of soil since we seem not to sense the same moral aspect in the enjoyment of the utility of more functional products as we do artworks.

Is this hypocritical or a by-product of Romanticism? Heroic artists create authentic art, therefore for art to be truly heroic it must have been created by heroes?

Personally, I read a lot of nineteenth and early twentieth century fiction. None of the authors measures up to twenty-first century morals (the twentieth and twenty-first centuries rarely live up to twenty-first century morals!), so I spend very little time fussing over their personal failings unless a) they are huge, b) they are my specific point of enquiry.

The next part of a famous quotation reads:

Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.

So I work without any assumption that I should find points of moral agreement beyond those that are clearly identifiable in their work. If, by happy coincidence, the creator was an abnormally saintly person, that's a bonus, I suppose, but not really one to which I give much thought; perhaps I feel differently about artists from my own era—they seem to lack a convincing excuse for failing to measure up.

Almost all of us are going to be found wanting by the students of the future. A few of us will be condemned fairly for hideous actions, others will be lauded for our forward-thinking enlightenment, but most average people (not especially good or bad) will be lumped into a mass of unenlightened barbarians who didn't try hard enough by our myopic descendants. Worse, you likely won't even know the reasons why, because many of them haven't been created yet!

In rambling conclusion: don't sweat the small stuff; don't hope to meet your heroes; keep your powder dry for the real monsters, and then do your best to separate the treasures in their caves from their foetid corpses.
 
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