Separating the Art from the Artist

If you’ve listened to today’s Kenny and Kylie Show, you’ll know I don’t have much regard for Orson Scott Card. He’s a master of science fiction and writes great novels, but he’s a terrible person. Learning about his extreme views put me in a situation I had never been in before. Can you separate art from the artist? Is it possible to consume and enjoy the work of someone who you dislike?

This issue isn’t limited to writers. You could apply it to literally anything you consume and for any issue. Do you support Starbucks because of their support of equal marriage and LGBT rights, or do you boycott them for not dealing exclusively in fair trade coffee? When you go to the store, do ask about all the businesses a certain product supports before making a purchase.

That seems crazy, but there’s an app for that if you want to be that serious. Buycott scans the bar code of products and lets you know all the different companies that have a hand in putting it on store shelves. From avoiding GMOs to boycotting companies whose ethics you disagree with, you can do it all.

Who really has time for that, though? I’m not going to lie, I tried buycott for a while. It was a frustrating, time-consuming experience.

The way I see it, no one can be active in their support of every worthy cause out there. We have to pick and choose what means the most to us and throw all our efforts into that ring. I am not saying we shouldn’t educate ourselves. Willful ignorance solves nothing. Still, unless you plan to live off the land, growing your own food and making your own clothing, chances are you will end up giving money to someone you don’t like for something you need.

My main issues of choice revolve around equality between the genders and between sexualities. I can tolerate someone who disagrees with me when it comes to those issues, but I refuse to give my hard earned money to anyone who will use it to injure the fights for gender and sexuality equality.

This photo, “ender's game” is copyright (c) 2014 CHRIS DRUMM and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license
This photo, “ender’s game” is copyright (c) 2014 CHRIS DRUMM and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license

That’s why I don’t eat at Chick-Fil-As. It was an easy sacrifice to make as I had never eaten at one before. Once I heard they contribute to an organization that works against equal marriage, I was determined never to give them a cent of my money. The same can be said for Orson Scott Card. No one seems to know what he does with the anti equal marriage group he’s a part of, but I won’t risk having my hard earned money going there.

I expect more out of people alive today. I’m a huge fan of Disney despite the fact he would be a rather terrible person by today’s standards. However, by the standards of the 1930s, I imagine he wasn’t too far away from the norm in most cases.

I remember a friend telling me their boyfriend’s mother hated Edgar Allan Poe for having relationships with children, or something like that. I believe he married his cousin Virgina when he was 27 and she 13, but again, wasn’t that pretty normal for 1836?

Even if someone was a terrible person by the standards of their time, since they’re no longer alive, any money I contribute can’t go to them. I guess that’s why I don’t think too much about their ethics.

Are there any authors or artist alive today who you refuse to support? Have you consumed their creations in a way that doesn’t support them or would you consider that unethical as well? Do you hold old actors, authors and artists to the same ethical standards you hold today’s artists?

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61 thoughts on “Separating the Art from the Artist”

  1. Very good topic. I wrote something not quite like this before but on how people can’t seem to separate the writing from the writer. Like just because I write a story where someone my murder someone or maybe their are mutants doesn’t mean I support murder or believe in Wolverine. But I do tend to wonder about authors who have deep rooted beliefs about something to the point of being zealots and then writing something that seemingly supports the opposite. Are they doing it for the money or for popularity?
    For me I believe in certain things but I don’t deny people things, if that makes sense. People make choices in life and so be it. As a writer I am going to possibly include that in my writing, but if I were an activist for or against something I wouldn’t then take the opposite attitude in a book I wrote because I would feel like a hypocrite.
    I may be confusing anyone that reads this. The old Lost Mind is rambling this morning.
    Much Respect
    Ronovan

    1. I never assume that a writer personally approves of the specific actions their characters make. We’d hardly have any books then. To me, it’s more about the actual person. If I dislike a person to a great degree, I’m not going to want to support them in any way, even if I want to read what they create. I do see some writers struggle with specific issues, though. I once read a great blog about sex in books. Long story short, they were saying if you believe in a specific sexual relationships, like no sex until marriage, is it appropriate to write a character that has sex before marriage? People worry about that, but they don’t bat an eye if they create a character that murders or steals. It’s just assumed the author isn’t trying to make a statement that stealing is okay. They’re just telling a story.

      To me, the struggle is writers who I dislike even though I like their work. You could say like someone but not liking their work is also a problem, but I feel like, if you really care for someone, you’d tell them the truth.

  2. What an interesting topic and good point.

    I have to admit, I do try and separate artists from their works, but it is hard. Especially in today’s world where celebrity is everything and the person seems to represent what their work is like (if that makes any sense?)

    1. it does in the sense society tries to make it that, but it’s not in the sense that an artist isn’t always trying to say something with what they create. I once heard something about people looking into the symbolism of tiny details. In a class, the blue shades are a symbol of the character’s mood or a predictor of things to come. If you were to actually ask the author, they might say they just like blue.

      I do try to keep the two separate, but I also like to stay knowledgeable. If an artist supports something I don’t want to contribute to, I’ll be less inclined to support them even if I like their work.

    1. I don’t know much about Woody Allen. What’s his issue?

      Sometimes that’s the way it is, though. It’s not that the work is terrible, but that you just can’t stand the idea of supporting a person who you dislike so much.

  3. Here’s an extreme example from the past. Wagner was a masterful composer who changed the face of music forever. He usually wrote about the redeeming quality of love. What’s not to like? In a place and era that was very anti-Semitic he was worse than most. In most respects he was one of the most awful people to earn a living as an artist yet his art has been loved by millions and influenced even Jewish composers such as Mahler and Schoenberg.

    1. Well, here’s how I would look at it. If Wanger is still alive (I’m going to assume no) I wouldn’t spend any money on his stuff because I wouldn’t want to risk that a cent of my income ending up in his pockets. However, if he is dead, he can no longer benefit from my money. As such, I wouldn’t have a problem enjoying his work. I still wouldn’t like him, but I could enjoy his work to an extent.

  4. Today the US Supreme Court is to hand down its ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, where HL was sued for failing to provide, under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (aka, unfortunately, as “Obamacare”), contraceptive and other sexually and gender-based medical options.

    I have not shopped at a Hobby Lobby since I first heard they would not insure for these services, and whatever ruling is handed down by the US High Court later today, I *still* won’t be a customer (and I used to be a frequent customer).

    Nice post. Thank you!

  5. This made me think of Salvador Dali. His lifestyle would be detestable to many, even by today’s standards. I don’t think many people think about who he was as a person when they marvel at his work though.

    1. I do think it’s possible to admire work without admiring the person. I still like Disney. I appreciate his art, but if he were alive today with all the same opinions, I’d wouldn’t support his work at all (no matter how much I might actually like it).

      I think it’s important to be educated and no ignore the unflattering aspects of certain artists, but that knowledge doesn’t mean you can appreciate their work if you like it.

  6. Great topic and an interesting one. It is very hard to separate the artist and the art. I have come a cross a similar situation lately. I’m doing my dissertation next year on the influence of HP Lovecraft on the horror genre. I’ve loved his work for years, but didn’t know a lot about him. I thought it would be a great chance to learn more about him. What I found was he was actually a extremely racist… And I mean extremely. Something I don’t agree with at all. However, it doesn’t change the fact I love his work. What a conundrum.

    1. Well, the thing is that HP Lovercraft isn’t in this world anymore. As such, spending money on his work doesn’t support him. He can’t take that money and contribute to racist groups. It does darken things, though. Ender’s Game used to be one of my favorite books. Even though I still love it, I can’t say that anymore. I can separate it from the artist enough to enjoy it, but not enough to consider it one of my favorites any more.

  7. I tend to focus more on what the artist’s art represents in social terms than on the artist’s personal views. I don’t know anything about Suzanne Collins, but I believe she has created an iconic character in Katniss Everdeen, one who has great social significance for our time. This is so because her character, whether intended by Ms. Collins or not doesn’t really matter, exemplifies social developments–i.e. a new woman’s identity of nurturing combined with independence, strength and competence. Her character reflects and clarifies a social trend, allowing us to see the possibilities based on the reality.

    I think criticizing the artist’s personal beliefs is another strain of political correctness, which gets us nowhere. What would be gained by a boycott of Sartre because he supported the Soviet Union? It also gets us into let he who is without sin cast the first stone territory.

    1. What something represents in social terms can be a bit fluid. Who Katniss represents today may not be how people perceive her tomorrow. I guess, to me it’s not about political correctness. It’s about being passionate about certain issues and not wanting to contribute to someone who works against them.

  8. I hear the Chik-Fil-A bit a lot. I understand it, but at the same time, do you buy your gas from BP, Texico, or other Middle Eastern based company? They do the same thing. But people don’t boycott because oil is essential. Chik-Fil-A is just an easy whipping boy, but how I see it, if you support one company who’s practices you don’t agree with, then it doesn’t matter how many you don’t.

    As for the art discussion, I believe it was once said that once the artist creates something, it’s then the world’s, and not just theirs anymore. It’s your interpretation and your value in their work.

    1. You’re right that Chik-Fil-A is an easy target. Still, people have to pick and choose their battles. Believe me, if I could go without gas, I would. Unfortunately that’s not possible. That doesn’t mean I can’t fight the things they support that I disagree with, I just can’t fight that way. I can’t believe in an all or nothing outlook. If I support something strongly and am given the opportunity to make my voice heard, then that’s what I’ll do. It’s not possible to do with every company, but I do it with those I can. That’s a poor example for me, though, since I’ve never been anyway. It’s not like I gave up anything.

      I like you’re idea of art. I think art can be enjoyed regardless of who made it, but knowing the person who made it will use the money you spend on their product for something you disagree with might change whether or not that transaction happens.

    1. This might sound terrible, but I might wish to read that. I might be curious about what goes through a person’s mind when they do something like that. However, I would not spend money on the book because I would not want them to make any money off that either. I don’t know how often something like that happens, but I would think most people would not want them to be making money. If they were to promise 100% of their profits would go towards some organization that helped victims, maybe then… maybe.

      1. Yes, going to charity or the family of the victims. And, as a criminologist, I agree with you about being curious as to what goes through a person’s mind when they commit such acts.

  9. “The way I see it, no one can be active in their support of every worthy cause out there. We have to pick and choose what means the most to us and throw all our efforts into that ring.” This is not an author or an artist, but I refuse to shop at Whole Foods because of their wasteful practices. Not “green” at all. Also, I cannot shop in any concrete warehouse. I feel like all humanity has been stripped away from the consumers in this environment.

      1. haha. I got that. I just can’t do all or nothing. It’s impossible to go 100% and avoid every person, artist and product whose practices I disagree with, but I can start with one and slowly ad others. Maybe someday, enough people will get the message that all the other companies will follow suit.

    1. I don’t know a lot about Whole Foods outside of the fact they’re not nearly as ‘organic’ as they claim. How sad that they attract the green crowd when they’re not really green at all.

      I’m not sure what you mean by a concrete warehouse. An image of Mendards comes to mind. Is that it?

        1. Oh. I know people who love Costco, but I can’t deal with the idea I have to pay a membership fee to buy things. That’s about all I know.

  10. I really enjoy listening to Kanye West’s music, but he’s a terrible human being… Everyone has to decided for themselves where the line between tolerable and unacceptable fall and it’ll vary depending on where you stand morally or ethically.

    It’s interesting that by buying his CD’s I am (if only in part) supporting him. I want to say that it doesn’t mean I support what he does on a day to day basis, but I think it partially does. Because in a black and white, wrong vs right sense, it’s 100% or 0%… This is strange.

    I guess maybe there is some internal scale in my head that weighs his douche-bagery against the pleasure derived from his work and it tips in favor of my own personal enjoyment. Weird.

    Good topic.

    1. That makes sense. I don’t care for Kanye West as a person either, but I don’t dislike him enough to avoid his CDs. There’s not anything he specifically supports (that I know of) which I specifically detest. I have to really dislike someone before I start avoiding anything they have a hand in.

  11. Reverse it. What if you dearly love someone, but hate their writing… Sometimes, I believe the art must be separated from the artists. Other times it doesn’t matter so much. I couldn’t have said that six months ago. Good post. Good thoughts TK.

    1. I think I would provide the person I care about constructive criticism. To me, it’s easier to provide honest criticism to someone I care about than it is to love the work of someone I don’t like. That’s just me, though.

  12. I boycott lots of things that I have moral homes with. In Orson Scott Card’s case, maybe you can check out his books at the library if you really, really love his writing?

    On the other point, I can’t help but think of the movie Amadeus. Composer Antonio Salieri could not figure out how Mozart could have such an amazing gift when he was such a sorry piece of humanity. Yet he did have a remarkable gift. So yeah, the two things do seem to be separate.

    1. I don’t like the idea of the library because then I’m motivating the library to invest in him. I have friends who have some of his books, though, so if anything I’ll borrow from them.

  13. “Who really has time for that, though? I’m not going to lie, I tried buycott for a while. It was a frustrating, time-consuming experience…unless you plan to live off the land, growing your own food and making your own clothing, chances are you will end up giving money to someone you don’t like for something you need.” That’s exactly how I feel about being a vegetarian. If I were to become a vegetarian because I wouldn’t kill an animal myself – a lot of people’s reason for being vegetarian – I feel like I would have to line up a lot of other inconsistencies in my life…which would be unrealistic. Who has time for that indeed. You gave me a lot to think about today! Thanks for that. 🙂

    1. You just have to choose what means the most to you. For me, I was first lead toward vegetarianism through research into nutrition and health. So, with my interests piqued, I did further research which lead me to videos and documentaries. That was enough to just turn me off. Still, you have to pick and choose. For example, I’d prefer to avoid dairy for the same nutrition and moral reasons, but dairy’s in almost everything. You have to pick and choose. Nothing will ever line up perfectly.

  14. I like to keep them separate, because I honestly don’t want to have to know every bad thing about the people who make the products I consume. I love Starbucks and I have no problem with the sourcing of their beans because of their involvement in humanitarian causes. But to hear that a company uses it’s money specifically to fight causes that I’m aligned with, such as equal marriage rights — that makes me want to find something else. Like I try not to shop at Walmart because they’re against organized labor and they use unethical payment practices, such as disparate pay scales between genders and keeping pay low enough to necessitate govt assistance for benefits. So Chick-Fil-A can eat it, but this disappoints me about Orson Scott Card because I didn’t know that until I read this post. I’ve read or listened to all the Ender books, I own books by him on writing SF and I’ve bought fiction mags just because he had a story in them.

    But here’s a question: we compulsorily pay taxes, which doesn’t necessarily make us hypocrites, but the majority of that money goes to enforcing the overseas interests of our government’s corporate sponsors — murder, arming militarized factions, organizing coups, straight up war — basically over oil and sugar. And I kid you not, we conquered Hawaii for the sugar industry; technically it’s not a U.S. state, but at best an occupied territory. Yet when someone comes up with an idea to spend money to improve the lives of Americans (ideally this is what taxes are for) the bills get shot down again and again by the same conservatives who lobby for military spending; all of a sudden, “we can’t afford” better universal healthcare options, better ways to take care of our veterans, education spending, infrastructure Improvements (or maintenance, in some cases) — this is what we are supporting as taxpayers, and we have much less control over that than they would have us believe.

    So how do I boycott America?

    1. Believe me, if there was a way I could pick and choose where my taxes go, I would. Paying taxes is a law, though, so you can’t boycott that. You can vote. I know people don’t think much of voting these days, but I honestly believe if 80+% of the public voted for everything, starting with the most local elections, we’d see a much different government.

      I think that’s the important thing to realize. Money is a good way to motivate people and make your voice known, but it’s not the only way.

      1. I agree. You could not pay taxes, but that comes with a stiff penalty if you’re worth anything, even as just an example. But I think it would be wonderful to pick and choose the allocation of my tax money. I would so do that, or even if you could pick one of several “allocation package” options that could work out fairly well if it was on the level.

        And yes, more people should vote, but even that is questionable with the electoral college in the way, because in the end the electors don’t have to vote the peoples’ choice if they don’t want to. The logic of the system tells us that I’d the elector values their job they will, but there are better incentives out there than even that paycheck.

        1. Oh man, don’t even get me started on the electoral college. There are many problems with government, but I honestly believe a lot could be solved if everyone voted. The electoral college doesn’t matter when voting for mayor, state senator or governor. The people voted in to those positions may eventually go into national politicians. If most people voted on that level, even with the electoral college in place, we’d see a different crop of politicians to choose from than the ones we have.

  15. Great post. Like you, I have my specific issues that I’m willing to fight over or protect. All others are just free speech to me. I’m a Jesus follower, so my hot button issue is people who attack Christians on principle. It’s fine to disagree with me or believe something else, but I can’t financially support people that attack simply on the idea of it. I tried boycotting other things at one time too, but it made me miserable, not them. I once disagreed vehemently with something Sean Penn did, but had I kept up my little miniature boycott parade, I would’ve missed out on Mystic River. And what an awesome movie that was.

    1. I’m good with free speech. The way I see it, if someone simply holds an opinion, even an opinion I disagree with, I’m not going to be motivated to do anything. However, if I person has an opinion I disagree with and actively uses the money or celebrity they have to turn their opinion into a reality, then I do have a problem.

      On your note of Christians, I really don’t like anyone who disagrees just to disagree. That ‘my way or the highway’ attitude can be very frustrating.

  16. This is a great topic that i’ve struggled with as well. Speaker for the Dead is one of my absolute favorite books and it really shocked me to learn how closed-minded the author is, especially given the message of that book (or the message i perceived, anyway). Knowing this now does not ruin the books for me, because it does feel like they were written by a completely different person, but it does make me not want to support him monetarily and find… alternative ways to continue the series, if i ever do.

    1. I have a friend who read Speaker for the Dead and desperately wants me to read it. He too has…. alternative ways… of reading it. I may get to it sometime, but never will I do it in a way that financially supports the author again.

  17. There was this video game called “Shadow Complex” that was made by a company that Orson Scott Card had a hand in. It was an extremely well-received and critically praised game, but there was a lot of discussion around this sort of thing at the time. It’s difficult to refuse to spend money on what is potentially an amazing product/work of art that everyone around you is praising.

    It’s worth doing, though. If more people did it (my parents support equal rights but still buy Orson Scott Card books) the world might be a better place.

    Also, not all of Orson’s work is worth reading. He’s made a couple of hits, but then you get garbage like Empire where he can’t keep his creepy agenda to himself anymore.

    1. You know, that almost makes me want to read Empire, just to see his real agenda come through (not that I’d spend my hard earned money to do so).

  18. Here’s a great example of how our world revolves around us individually. I read your articles. Always did But now I check the ‘replys’ and do not read the article if the “artist” does not acknowledge responses. Yet I always read yours as well as some others whose work I savour,(from before) but who never respond to comments. Even though I couldn’t care less about comments on my articles.. . . Not really,I confess.

    1. I do respond to comments, just not as fast. I mentioned when I got my job that there would be some changes around here. At first, I was going to reduce the number of posts I published each week, but that just didn’t feel right. I’ve decided instead to prioritize writing every day because it’s what I need to make my day feel compete. I do answer comments, but I only have one or two nights a week where I have time to go through them all. Sorry for the delay. Life would be so much easier if I could just work on this blog for a living.

    1. Yeah, I was really disappointed when I learned about Disney, but I still love Disney the business. It’s certainly not perfect, no company is, but I think they are trying to be more inclusive. Disney the company probably does things today that would make the original Disney roll in his grave.

  19. I don’t eat or drink at places that are too expensive for the product (sorry ChickenPlaces) or at places where I think the product is awful (Sorry CoffeePlace). A business should be a business and not try to be political. While I respect any business owner for closing on Sundays or holidays, as that is the business owner’s prerogative, I don’t think it should go beyond controlling price and quality, business hours, staffing and benefit choices. When businesses start muddling in the political or religious arenas they are not making business statements, they are making individual, personal statements. Run your company how you want, hire people you want at wage and benefit packages they agree to (or don’t hire them), sell your stuff, smile and let me think for myself.

    1. and it cuts both ways. If an employer doesn’t want to hire you because you don’t meet their hiring criteria or you don’t like them because they don’t offer the benefits you want, go somewhere else.

  20. I immediately thought of Amadeus too. I think the work can transcend the person.
    I do not buy magazines that endorse celebrity culture/gossip. Neither do I watch so called reality programmes that create pseudo celebrity where no talent or artistry is involved. Maybe not quite the same thing but it feels similar in that what we don’t support ethically we may do something to make a difference no mater how small. We just have to make our choices on what or where we feel compelled or able to do so.
    A very interesting article calling into question our own stances in many areas.

    1. “we just have to make our choices on what or where we feel compelled or able to do so.” I completely agree. None of us can do it all, but small voices can be loud when combined. Even if no one else follows, at least you know you’re following your heart.

  21. I never like Quentin Tarantino. Too much gory. Our history is full of conflict and murder so getting graphical on killings is not historical. Its a sick thing. I watched his Dust Till Dawn and this is a movie? Then weighed his version of “Inglourious Basterds” from the original. It like watching how hazing initiation hitting the baseball bat to a captive German. Then his Django Unchained. We all know the history of slavery but seeing them beating each other or eaten by dogs, its a sick thing to do.

    Its a good thing digital movies be easily fast forward to skip Tarantino sicko killings. No wonder people are prone to violence.

    Cables series like G.O.T and Spartacus promotes violence especially to women. Why do we need to be detailed how they people becomes slaves and hopeless when we are living right now with freedom and still some still hope to live the dark ages. And still people watch this show for its erotic scenes but the its not casual sex, its rape.

    Hello advocates for women’s right? Hope you take arms on this violence.

    1. Gore is a type of movie similar to horror. They’re not really movies I would prefer to watch, but I wouldn’t claim they make a statement about the treatment of women specifically unless women were the only people being harmed. Typically, gore movies show many people, no just women, being hurt. I’m not really a fan of that type of movie. Gore can serve a purpose, but sometimes it can be way overdone.

        1. I’ve never seen either, so I can’t really comment, although I really want to see Game of Thrones. As I understand, people in general die horrible deaths all the time on that show. The author has actually been praised for the strong female characters he has created. I’d really need to know more. Just because violence happens and some of that violence is towards women doesn’t automatically equal promotion of violence towards women in my book. Now, if violence is happening only against women or if that violence is depicted as deserved, justified or otherwise okay then I might have a problem, but again, I haven’t seen the show to really hold any of those opinions. I probably will get on the Game of Thrones bandwagon at some point, so I’ll let you know a clearer opinion then.

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