Can you separate art from the artist?
Art cannot exist in vacuum, it will always be a part of the artist.
Spoiler alert — no.
Much has already been said about this discourse. In fact, I’ve already had the art vs the artist discussion with people around me many times over. There are only two sides, after all. Either you agree that someone’s work can be enjoyed regardless of the type of human they are or you, like me, believe that people infuse bits of themselves into everything they create.
When I originally decided on this topic, I wanted to talk about Harry Potter. How JK Rowling’s transphobic views have changed the way, I look at my once-upon-a-time favourites. But really, this tumblr, previously the biggest HP fansite, does a fantastic job articulating why you can’t separate Rowling’s views from Harry Potter.
Cancel Culture is a joke
Everyone goes agog over “Cancel Culture” and how it’s ruining people’s lives because of something they said or believe or did that has absolutely nothing to do with their work. I call bullshit on two levels —
One, you cannot create something entirely separate from yourself. Whether you do it knowingly or not, your beliefs and ideals will always seep into your creative work.
Two, Cancel Culture has barely any impact on white people and men.
Let’s talk about Roman Polanski, child rapist and acclaimed director who admitted to raping a minor1 and then went on the run forty years ago. He’s doing just fine. Neither he nor his work has been cancelled in any way. His new film received a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival — yep, he’s still making films and working with A-list actors like Kate Winslet and Pierce Brosnan.
He admitted guilt and fled. But his “genius” is too valuable to be wasted, according to Hollywood, who keep giving him a platform. Back home in Bollywood, Vikas Bhal, who was accused of sexual misconduct by his coworker2, has been merrily making films even after this production house got dissolved.
Of course, there are exceptions to this. Media trials can ruin people’s careers, reputations, and lives. What happened to Johnny Depp comes to mind. I’d stopped watching or consuming any of his work until the news broke that the allegations of domestic abuse were false and that he was the victim.
Actually, it’s pretty black and white
I get it — no one is inherently good or bad. We’ve all said and done stupid, fucked up things. But when I hear someone say, “XYZ makes great music, so I can dismiss the fact that he’s a Neo Nazi because his work doesn’t include anything that alludes to his beliefs,” my brain shortcircuits.
My good guy, I want to say, you’re giving the Neo Nazi a platform. You’re purchasing their music and giving them money to do more Neo Nazi things. Unless you’re pirating their content and then keeping mum about it, you’re drawing attention to their work on social media — alerting other Neo-Nazis to support them monetarily or introducing unsuspecting people to a Neo-Nazi’s work.
Now, I can guarantee that millions of people make great, possibly even better music and aren’t Neo Nazis. So maybe you can give them a listen instead?
For what it’s worth, there are so, so, so many talented people in the world — especially BIPOC — who are more deserving of your love, appreciation, and money instead of these people who use the platform you give them for hateful ideas.
One cannot exist without the other
After spewing her bigoted views on trans people on social media, JK Rowling went a step further and included them in her new books. Maybe there wasn’t anything transphobic in the Harry Potter series, but the “transvestite” serial killer in her latest murder mystery isn’t code for anything but the fact that she’s a TERF.
So, here’s what I think.
Many of us grew up with Harry Potter and had a deep emotional attachment to the books. But that doesn’t give us the right to ignore what Rowling has been saying about trans people and their rights. If the Harry Potter actors can come out in support of trans people, you can also recognize that Rowling’s views are outdated, hurtful, and frankly, disgusting.
Every single thing created has a little bit of its creator. There’s no escaping that simple fact, really. Art matters because of the artist — that’s why Hollywood can’t let go of Polanski, because his work is unique to him.
It’s easy to turn a blind eye to our faves’ flaws — we want to appreciate the good that’s come out from them, we don’t want to invalidate amazing work simply because of the person who created it, you know? But unfortunately, that piece of amazing work only exists because of that flawed artist. It is our moral duty to acknowledge those flaws and know whose work we’re consuming and promoting.
When you marvel at Picasso’s paintings, you should remember that he has once beaten a woman unconscious.
When you watch Midnight in Paris, think about the fact that Woody Allen possibly groomed his adoptive daughter, who is thirty-five years younger than him.
When you read Roald Dahl’s books and chuckle at the funny bits, remember that he admitted to being an anti-Semite.
You cannot separate art and the artist.
Penny for your thoughts?
Last week, I explored toxic productivity, and two readers shared some pretty cool articles that I think are worth checking out:
Iolanda C sent me a BBC Worklife article on how to escape the productivity trap.
Steffen R shared a piece from the New York Times about the relationship between personal productivity and work.
Read something you'd like to share? Just reply to this email!
Weekly faves! 💌
If, like me, you also need music to work, here's a cool playlist of pop piano covers you can put on in the background.
Curious about the Egyptian Pyramids? The Giza Plateau is a Harvard Uni project that offers realistic 3D reconstructions, free information, media, and research materials.
Miss old-school, retro PC games? Check out this website and choose a theme to go back into the past for a bit.
A step-by-step guide to Deep Work, aka working well and without distractions.
Finally, your weekly reminder:
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See you next week!
Let’s not call it “had sex with a minor” because we all know that’s just a longer way of saying rape.
This claim was corroborated by actress Kangana Ranaut (who is a whole different can of worms herself).