Can art be separated from its creators?

False Idols - 022814

I read a dark humored piece at The Onion concerning the recent trials and tribulations of Woody Allen and the allegations by Mia Farrow's daughter, Dylan about his sexually abusing her as a child*.  In this satirical piece, the Onion makes us confront a difficult question - how do we reconcile our appreciation of Allen's creative greatness and the quandary his alleged actions puts his fans and supporters in? I recently read a piece about a similar conundrum about appreciating the musical production genius of Phil Spector while contending with his sick masochistic nature.  My internal question is, can we still appreciate their art?

There are multiple artists in most genres that have created critically acclaimed art that was tarnished by their actions, behaviors, beliefs, etc. Along with Spector and Allen, Roman Polanski fled to exile to avoid a trial for raping a 13 year old girl.  Polanski also created the masterpiece, Chinatown. I still relish watching that movie, but wonder if I should watch it due to Polanski's history.

Maybe there are two questions.  First, can someone be redeemed by their art?  Second, if they can't be redeemed by it, can we still appreciate it as its own entity while not heaping praise upon its creators?

I believe in redemption, but it comes from actions to mediate and remedy the sins.  The guilty must make amends before redemption.  From what I've seem, none of these accused have taken a step toward redemption through their art.  So, that answers the first question.

Should we separate art from the artists?  When I create art, most of the pieces have no title and at most a brief artist statement on the series.  I don't have a reputation beyond a few friends and fellow artists, so my art is not viewed and commented on as a piece by Karl, but just what the viewer sees, feels, interprets, and comments upon.  I greatly appreciate hearing feedback on my art without my name tinting the view.  When I am the consumer of the art, I enjoy taking it in without being influenced by the artist's legend following it.  By doing that, I can better relate to it and find my own meaning.  Sadly though, when the creator has a big reputation, regardless if it is good or bad, will influence my reception of the art.  Even more sad, I will have to try to account for his/her sins when consuming the art.

So is there any way to view art this way and appreciate it?  I may have found a way by actually bringing the artist into it.  I plan to start looking into the art to see if the artist's sins can be found in their creations.  I am not trying to be an investigator or anything, but trying to understand if some elements of what makes him/her evil lives in the art.  By looking how evil either explicitly or subtly gets into art we may be able to learn where our own sins seep out of us.

* Woody Allen has not been convicted of the allegations brought against him in this post. 


  1. You brought up some other excellent examples in addition to Spector, all of whom I too have wondered about. Most recently, I felt sympathy for Woody Allen when his lifetime tribute was sullied by a tweet attack from Mia Farrow, but in this case it is because I am not sure he committed the crime. These cases bring up so many questions of right, wrong, and complicity. What you and I are saying is that we don't want to be complicit in the behaviors of the artists or to support destructive people. Yet, we appreciate the art. Thank you for writing about this. When I wrote my doctoral dissertation about Tennessee Williams, my director said not to get into his private life, just assess the art as it is. He wasn't judging Williams' homosexuality, but felt it would derail me from the art. I'm glad I looked at his work that way. But knowing about his life was always in my mind. Did it color how I interpreted his work? I think I did understand both the work and the person better. But not to talk over the work by obsessing on one thing about a person's life that we know was good advice.

  2. Good question, Karl. As usual my take on the subject is pretty much upside down though, I'm wondering why people make idols out of their entertainers in the first place. It's really terribly self defeating circular. To make someone an idol is to strip away their humanity and impose external expectations (our expectations on the life that produced whatever caught our eye in the first place), and then in total defiance of logic impose the most cruel expectation: that they comply with our expectations to keep our patronage and still continue to provide something from the inside of they themselves when our expectations just deprived them of the headwater source of the very thing we found so fascinating in the first place!

    Anyone who is an artist of any sort knows the function of art in any form is, to the person producing that art, an emotional counterbalance to whatever the rest of the personality might be, for this reason art and anything from a minor bias running down to full bore perversion are common companions... the more powerful the art all to often the larger the problem being balanced for survival. Phil Spector a masochist? Not hard to believe at all. Just look at all the angst ridden heart broken teenagers who have counted on him over the years to produce something that gives voice to their pain. You'd have to be a masochist of seriously impressive endurance to make a career of doing that.

    I enjoy their art, and in my secret thought wish them good luck at whatever it is they're dealing with that put them in the position of producing it to begin with.

  3. Cyranos, I like your take on Phil Spector. That does indeed make sense, and he has said in interviews that he knows there's something wrong with him and feels a lot of pain. I hadn't connected that before to the teenagers his work was written for. Good point.

    1. Thanks CJ. During our sabbatical from each other I've acquired a great deal more understanding of that part of the world than I ever really wanted. Seems that river runs a lot wider through the human condition than I'd ever imagined in the darkest of nightmares.

  4. Thank you both expanding on this. I guess my concern concerns the complicity question. By saying their art has value, are we condoning what they did. On the flip side, can good art be detached from of the creator, or at the very least be appreciated without giving them a pass on their wrongs.

  5. You're right, Karl. We haven't dealt with the complicity question. For myself, it's because I don't know how...I don't know what response is the most ethical and yet sensible. I don't like the extremes to which we get pushed by political correctness. At the same time, we need a good measure of political correctness to hold the line on prejudice and hatred. Perhaps I should revisit my personal rule regarding ethics: if it makes you feel sick to do something, don't do it.

    I've also encountered more darkness than I'd like, Cyranos. It's the pitfall of taking a realistic and intelligent view of the world.

  6. Karl, CJ, there's a very valid point here in bad need of being aired out, examined and considered.

    IF (huge word that is)
    …we say that Art is the process of communicating an emotional state of being
    …we assume that Art can do more than transmit an image of that state but rather actually work to install such a state in a recipient
    …the ethics of Art become very complicated indeed, the ethics of the art, and the patrons tendency to include (by emotionally identifying with the artist as with the art) the life of the artist as a potential role model.

    This one really, really needs to get explored. All the hink and kink, all the angst and emotional turmoil of art empowered by the digital age becomes a true Darwinian modifier on the culture. This needs understood.


So,what are you thinking about?