The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Jerks

Posted by Matt on November 16, 2011

What of separating the artist from their work? Is it ideal to not let the personality of the creator affect your judgement of their creation, or vice versa? Is it a simple line, or are there gray areas?

Just skimming the surface of the idea, it would seem to be a good path to take. There are going to be times when the person behind the pen/camera/computer/microphone is a colossal prick; you never really know what you’re going to get with them creative types. But if they are really good at what they do, and could put out something that is interesting and enjoyable even if they disagree with you/are a moron (because both can happen, people. It is possible for an opinion to wrong), it should not be an obstacle in enjoying it. And the reverse is also true: there’s no really point in judging someone based solely on their work. A shitty director could be a really nice person in real life, just simply inept at their craft. So the oversimplified answer to the question is yes, you should separate the artist from the work.

The more nuanced and worthwhile answer is…a little more complicated. I truly believe that any worthwhile art is going to reflect something about the artist, consciously or not. And it should be so; a creation not imbued with some aspect of the people behind it is simply a factory-churned non-entity, a product in the worst sense, and not worth discussing at all. Our own personalities are informed by our experiences, so why shouldn’t the products of our mental labour? Why shouldn’t our art be considered an extension of our personalities? It’s not like we simply decide to draw/write/photograph/film/sing/play for no reason: we each have our own motivations and goals for doing the things we do. Sometimes they are rational, sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes they are discernible, sometimes they aren’t. Art is a product of humanity, not something that just bubbles into existence, and that is a major reason why it’s fascinating.

So I think separating the work from the jerk often dulls the work, taking away the human element that is essential. So then, what happens when you find those mythical beasts, the unpalatable creators? Certainly, if we are to believe that the art is always an extension of the creator, what are we to do then? Well, on a basic craft level, it is still entirely possible to appreciate the technical skill of a director or artist, even if it is used for apparently ill ends. If the personality of the creator is evident in the work, and sometimes it is only faintly so, then we can say that we are judging the work based on the work, so the argument doesn’t really enter the equation. Of course, it is very possible to be a great artist who soaks his or her work with horrific hatred. It is then that it becomes a true personal judgement call: whether the craft can overcome the ugliness, or whether that ugliness can make the work more interesting as you try to determine where the artist is coming from, is up to you. It can enhance the work, but it is entirely understandable if it also deters you from it.

Where this argument most often comes up is when the artist works on something that is completely unrelated to their more controversial personality traits. Science Fiction and Fantasy are the primary ones, as the invented nature of the genres means that modern politics and ethics are not entirely blatant, although there are plenty of times where they are. It is also an issue when dealing with most artists before the 20th century. So we know that Lovecraft was a racist, Heinlein a closet fascist, Ditko a Objectivist, and Sim a misogynist. We also know that most the authors of the classics were any combination of racist, misogynist, authoritarian, and classist. (I’ve also seen it pop up in concerns to religious/non-religious differences. For example: can an atheist read a book by a fervent Christian and not object to it, and vice versa?) At times, this can make their work daunting to take in without violent retching, even when they’re dealing with space men from Mars or flowery poems about nature. At the same time, these disagreeable philosophies can still be an interesting part of the work, something for the astute reader to pick apart to see where they were coming from. Again, it’s entirely a personal judgement call, but I think in the grand majority of these cases, one should not try to completely remove the author from the reading. I think something is lost in there if one does, even if that something is terrible.

In the end, one must recognize that our reaction to the creator, and to associate their work with them even when the connection isn’t obvious, is an entirely human thing to do. What one does with that is entirely up to each individual. To completely remove that association is to remove the human element of the art, in my mind. Maybe to some that’s a good way to keep enjoying the art. But I wouldn’t want to have to remove anything to enjoy it. What’s in the art and entertainment, good and bad, is what makes it interesting.

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