Opinion: I Can’t Always Separate Artist from Art, Especially if They are a Shitty Person
By: Katie Hovde
Cover Photo By: Jacqueline Day
I wholeheartedly believe that you should not separate the artist from their art. Art is the purest expression of someone’s soul. Through art, you can see directly into the dustiest parts of who someone is. You learn about the artist. They stand in front of you, bare and vulnerable (hopefully figuratively) and help show you how to know yourself in ways that you haven’t considered yet. Art is intended to elicit an emotional response. Even no response, is still a response. It is often difficult to elicit such a response without putting some kind of emotional and/or spiritual energy into the situation first. Therefore, this intrinsic connection between artist and art should never be broken. The art is the extension of the artist, the artist is their art.
Let’s take Bill Cosby for example. I used to love Bill Cosby. I have fond memories of watching and listening to Bill Cosby’s stand-up comedy specials with my dad and watching The Cosby Show after school. I never imagined that he could do anything wrong. Bill Cosby ended up being a fucking creep. He drugged and raped a bunch of women and got away with it for years. He even made JOKES about it in his routines. Ever since the news broke that he had done all of these things, I couldn’t even think about listening to his comedy or watch any of his movies or TV show because for one, I don’t want to give him the benefit of hits, likes, comments, views, impressions, or any other internet metric; but mostly because it doesn’t matter how good someone’s art is, if it comes from someone with that kind of evil inside of them, it’s as my view of the art is t(a)inted with a thin veneer of roofies and old-man cum.
Or take Richard Wagner, the legendary composer of Der Ring des Nibelungen; which is basically an operatic 1800s version of The Lord of the Rings. He was a well-known anti-Semite and wasn’t afraid who knew it. According to Encyclopedia Britannica “The composer openly articulated his views in a number of publications, most notably Judaism in Music (Das Judentum in der Musik; 1850), in which he identified Jewish musicians as the ultimate source of what he perceived as substanceless music and misplaced values in the arts as a whole.” I mean, come on… The guy used his art to bash an entire subset of people and their value as artists (and humans). Granted, this was a different time and it wasn’t as damning to publish things like this because he was a rich white man in Germany who just happened to be Adolf Hitler’s favorite composer. However the times that I have played Wagner in orchestra or even seen it programmed – I can’t fully experience his music because I know that his anti-Semitism shows up in many of his works and it taints my ability to truly get to the depths of what this extremely prolific composer was trying to express through his art. He lived his life believing that Jewish people were less than him simply because they were Jewish; and every time I hear the, albeit, beautiful music he created, all I can think of is his hatred for people he didn’t even know and didn’t care to consider as people.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that art, of all forms, touches people in intimate, personal, and extraordinary ways. The art is the extension of the artist, the artist is their art. Sometimes it has broken my heart because I had gotten attached to the art; like in the case of Johnny Depp and how he beat his ex-wife. I can still stomach him sometimes, but it’s rare. If the artist is a catalyst for their art, the fact that they are a shitty person is going to have an unavoidable impact on the message and perception of said art. And the simple truth of it is that there is so much incredible art in the world. If someone doesn’t turn out to be who you thought they were, maybe it’s just a sign that it’s time to seek new ways to experience your humanity, rather than wasting our precious time on art that isn’t worthy of a consideration. Being a human is hard. Having human feelings is hard. Art helps. Do we really want to have to sift through the bullshit and garbage to get what really matters?
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