Art and Artist
After reading about the latest uproar in science fiction and fantasy fandom, I’ve been thinking about the notion that one should separate the art from the artist. Can someone who is utterly heinous in their personal lives create fantastic art? I would say yes. The quality of art is not related to the morality of the artist.
But can one completely separate art from the artist? Art is not like math. It cannot be created in a vacuum. In the case of books, even if the writer writes about a totally alien setting and plot and characters, there is still style. A writer’s word choice and choice of literary themes may not necessarily show a writer’s ethics or philosophy, but they do reveal how the writer thinks.
I am not in favor of banning anything, even if the artwork was created by an artist who is so horrible, they aren’t even fit to be called a human being. But whether or not I choose to expose myself to that artwork is my choice. And just as I don’t think other people should force me to see or not see a piece of art, it is not my place to dictate how others should see art. After all, it’s their choice, too.
The line for what art I will or will not see is a fuzzy one. It can also depend on an artist’s intention. Is the piece of art created completely separately from the artist’s life? Is that piece of art used to generate income that the artist can use to further his or her bad behavior? Is the artwork itself a means for the artist to commit crimes? I can think of at least one reason why I would want to read a book by an author I think is a bad person–to see how the other side thinks. But I would borrow the book from the library instead of buying it–because I don’t believe in giving my money to someone who will use it to do further horrible things.
Sometimes, the notion that “art is separate from the artist” is used as an excuse for bad behavior. Just because the art is great doesn’t mean that the art automatically confers its greatness to the artist. Many fans don’t seem to critically think this through. An artist is a human, not a god. Even if an artist (or anyone in general) does something good in the world, it does not mean that piece of good erases the bad they’ve done. And if you know the artist in person, this does not mean that because they’ve treated you nicely that they will treat everyone nicely. Some people can be Jekyll or Hyde depending on the situation and who they’re around.
So I guess it goes both ways, really. If you’re going to uphold the philosophy that art has nothing to do with the artist, then if the artist can’t influence how one perceives the art, the art also can’t influence how one perceives the artist. If the artist is a monster and the art is great, a fan can’t just dismiss the fact that the artist is a monster. If the fan does, the fan is just as guilty of not separating the art from the artist as someone who refuses to look at the art because it was created by a monster.