Separating the Art from the Artist
The answer may not be as clear-cut as one would expect.
November 27, 2022
Picture a piece of media you hold dear to your heart. It can be a favorite novel series you read over the summer, a memorable movie from your childhood—just about anything that evokes feelings of comfort, nostalgia, or happiness.
But consider: what if you find out the creator was an absolutely terrible person? An abuser, a pedophile—you name it. What should you do? Should you dismiss the revelation, or should you burn all your beloved books in a pit of fire out of disgust and betrayal?
What you choose to do can be a complicated decision as it is reliant on the nuance and context of the situation. However, this is ultimately a moral choice that is up to each individual. An artist’s work can always inherently be separated from the artist, even if its creation was influenced by the artists themselves.
Consider Harry Potter, an immensely popular fantasy novel series that shaped an entire generation and created an undeniable impact. Even if someone has not necessarily read or liked the books, it is incredibly rare to find someone who has never heard of Harry Potter because of how its brand has become nearly synonymous with the idea of wizards and witchcraft in fantasy for vast amounts of people. Fans of Harry Potter are so prevalent that they have earned their own unique nickname of “Potterheads” because of their cult dedication to the series. Yet regardless of this fantasy saga’s broad influence, J. K. Rowling has been criticized for her thinly-veiled transphobia on social media despite her attempts to seem inclusive. However, has anything she has ever said or done legitimately mattered to the integrity of the series?
The author wrote a book, but the book itself has affected people’s lives in a myriad of positive and meaningful ways. The cultural phenomenon of “fandoms” exists for a reason; art and media have the ability to create communities—communities of like-minded people united by their pure appreciation of what is simply an amalgamation of ideas, however niche they may be. And those ideas are more than just whoever was their source because of how they inspire, motivate, and comfort. Readers, consumers, and whoever engages with the media are ultimately what keep it alive, not the creator.
Readers, consumers, and whoever engages with the media are ultimately what keep it alive, not the creator.”
On the other hand, people often argue that the artist is inseparable from their art because a creator’s craft can be ultimately seen as a culmination of who they are and what they believe through the deliberate decisions they make. Characters have been portrayed in this particular light or a scene has this specific undertone because this is what the author thinks is a natural reaction or a suitable course of action. The nuance that lies in the presentation of a work is supposedly indicative of the artist’s undeniable presence in their art; after all, art is considered self-expression for a reason, right?
One such argument would compel you to consider Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby for instance, where despite its satirical portrayal of the mindless racism parroted by fools like Tom Buchanan, there is a prevalence of such casual antisemitism echoed within the same pages through stereotypical imagery. The writing here demonstrates blatant hypocrisy and a lack of self-awareness that undermines the attempted satire; however, this aspect is merely a reflection of the author and his fallacious bigotry. As a whole, the novel still stands on its own. The Great Gatsby remains a hallmark of American literature that highlights the pitfalls of blindly buying into the elusive American dream and the ideals it stands for, despite these authorial missteps. If anything, the fault of the author paints a larger picture of his own time period and life. As the imperfect medium through which these ideas are given form, the artist’s faults merely become part of their art rather than defining the work’s legitimacy.
In the end, what the author says is different from what the reader takes from their words, and the value of art ultimately lies in that takeaway. The matter of physically supporting authors is a completely different story. Monetary and tangible support does not equate to personally appreciating art and media. They often go hand in hand, but these two actions can be mutually exclusive. If you absolutely detest a work’s creator, by all means, find yourself alternative sources to consume media, turn on your adblocker—whatever you want! But don’t force yourself to throw away the art you enjoy.