A creator's art versus a creator themselves
September 16, 2009 4:59 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by Kanye: When you like the artist's art but not the artist...

So surely you're familiar with Kanye's recent act of staggering brashness and insensitivity at the VMAs. Well, it got me thinking about a dilemma I've struggled with for a long time -- when you like an artist's art but not the artist.

I often find that I really like a artist's music, but upon watching interviews of them or reading about them, I realize that they're really not the best people. I realize I really wouldn't care to be friends with them. For instance, they might be incredibly egotistical assholes (like Kanye), stupid, immature hipsters, amoral junkies, or various other unpleasant things. Now, you might want to say, "Hey man, it's rock and roll. It's supposed to come with all the depravity and arrogance and imperfections and shit." But I'd respond that the music I like is something very dear to me, something that affects me deeply; and knowing that a bunch of bastards are responsible for that doesn't sit well with me.

So I'd love to hear what you guys think about this. I've only talked about music, simply because that's all I really know, but my question is meant to be as broad as possible -- to include all art: film, literature, painting, and so forth. Do you feel conflicted when you realize an artist whose stuff you like is actually a shitty person? Do you like their stuff any less? Should this even be a concern? I'd love to hear what you think.
posted by frankly mister to Media & Arts (54 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I only ever read Ender's Game and liked but didn't love it, but reading about Orson Scott Card's politics really turned me off from wanting to read more.
posted by kmz at 5:01 PM on September 16, 2009 [10 favorites]

And as a math major, I loved the Moore Method of teaching and admired RL Moore for all his contributions to mathematics, but his extreme racism is hard to ignore.
posted by kmz at 5:05 PM on September 16, 2009

I can still enjoy a John Tavolta or Tom Cruise movie even though they are Scientologists.
posted by fixedgear at 5:05 PM on September 16, 2009

Yeah, that's like Tehching Hsieh. A pure genius and probably the greatest living performance artist of the 20th century. However, he simply refuses to acknowledge himself as an artist now. This is totally heartbreaking to me as I was not alive during any of his major projects and now must live with mainly textual memoirs of others and many quite lame performance art pieces that populate today's art scene.
posted by parmanparman at 5:09 PM on September 16, 2009

Wagner's got to be the classic example of someone like this. Opera's not my thing so much, but any musicologist will tell you that the man was a brilliant composer and an absolutely atrocious human being. I tend to think you have to separate the two, unless the art itself promotes something vile.
posted by Copronymus at 5:09 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Whatever personal feelings I have about artists as people, I generally don't let them affect my reactions to their work. For instance, there are several actors I really dislike based on things they've done/said (Val Kilmer, Sean Penn), but I still greatly respect their work.
posted by brundlefly at 5:12 PM on September 16, 2009

I tend to get put off from artists who engage in dickish behavior if their work is openly autobiographical, but am less disgusted if I hear that an artist whose work isn't autobiographical is an asshole. I have firsthand knowledge that Richard Lloyd of Television can be rather abrasive as an individual (and secondhand knowledge of Tom Verlaine's similarly prickly behavior), but as their work isn't about them and how awesome they are, I can disconnect and enjoy their music. By contrast, there's a musician from around here who has gone out of her way to screw people over. Her work has a strong autobiographical component that makes it impossible for me to listen to her music and lyrics without thinking about her actions as a person.

The one exception to this rule is artists who have beaten their wives. I can't listen to Ike Turner, and learning that Frankie Valli had a domestic violence rap in the '60s made it similarly impossible to enjoy his work.
posted by pxe2000 at 5:16 PM on September 16, 2009

Curb Your Enthusiasm is one of my favorite TV shows, but I'm pretty sure if I met Larry David in person I'd want to strangle him. (However, the humor of the show is basically predicated on this exact reaction. The show wouldn't be nearly as funny -- probably not funny at all -- if he were likable.)

[Thanks for asking this question, BTW. I'm considering buying tickets for the Kanye/Lady Gaga tour, but his outburst at the VMAs is making me reconsider giving him my money. I don't feel as bad about continuing to listen to his music, because I didn't, um, pay for it.]
posted by cosmic osmo at 5:16 PM on September 16, 2009

Bit of chatfilter, including the I'll-go-first aspect.

That said, for me a judgment on art comes from the following rough formula: 20 percent is my feelings on the artist as a person, 30 percent is my reaction to perceived artistic intent, and 50 percent is reactions to the "text" itself. Which means that finding out that someone whose work I liked is a raging asshole is disappointing, but isn't enough to make me change my mind about the work. Likewise, finding out that the intention of the artist was different than what I believed doesn't necessarily make my interpretation incorrect (I stab at thee from the dark heart of post-modernism), though it can drop something I thought was brilliant down to something I think is OK but disagree with the artist on why it works.

So, yes, of course it enters into the discussion, and everyone is going to weight things differently, but I've known too many great guys who make shitty music, and too many absolute assholes who make brilliant work, to let it bother me that much. Frankly, it's a fairly naive question and one that most people grow out of as their tastes get more sophisticated.
posted by klangklangston at 5:17 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, pxe2000's comment reminded me -- I can't really listen to Chris Brown anymore without feeling disgusted. Most of that reaction comes from the opposite of what pxe2000 is talking about -- the cognitive dissonance that comes from hearing upbeat, innocent, poppy love songs from someone who beat the shit out of his girlfriend. Ike Turner, for whatever reason (historical distance and his relative importance to music as compared to Chris Brown, maybe) irks me less.
posted by cosmic osmo at 5:22 PM on September 16, 2009

Lars von Trier comes to mind.
posted by reductiondesign at 5:31 PM on September 16, 2009

I'd like to slap the goatee off of Kanye West. What an absolute child. I think he's an actual, not figurative, narcissist and so I should pity him, but I'd rather just punch his teeth out. While I don't see what the big deal about his songs is lyrically, I recognize that his skills as a producer are excellent. So tight. But I absolutely won't listen to his music because of the ass he's made of himself. There's a song out right now with him and two other people, and I love the sound of the crystalline keyboards in it, but I have to change the channel because I know I'll hear his voice soon. I don't want to think about him, don't want to support him, and would never buy his music because of how he presents himself. So many of my friends like him, and if he were not an arrogant jerk I would totally give him a chance.

In other cases, I don't think about it much. I liked a lot of the songs from the Van Hagar period, for example, but was really disappointed to find out about Hagar's politics. It's hard for me to like the music as much, knowing that, yet if I just don't think about it, I'm fine.

I liked Arnold Schwarzenegger growing up, but then heard about his politics, and again had a hard time liking him. (This was before he started easing up and compromising some). Dennis Miller, Victoria Jackson, same thing but worse.

But think about all the music you love and how little you really know about most of the people behind it. How many of the songs you like now would you toss out if the people behind them turned out to be asses? You could be listening to some philandering, wife-beating jerk's music right now. While you may feel you don't want to support someone who you don't like, it still seems like a shame to lose out on something you enjoy.

So to answer your question, if you are moved to eschew somebody's art because of who they are, do it. If the feeling isn't strong enough, don't worry about it. You'll be right either way, as far as you're concerned.
posted by Askr at 5:32 PM on September 16, 2009

Respect acts independently from the person associated with it. I think it could take us a long way as a society if we stopped idolizing those associated with grand acts of genius and stopped demonizing those associated with despicable acts. It's the rare exception for someone to spend their whole lives on one side of the fine line between virtue and vice.
posted by any major dude at 5:34 PM on September 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

For a post-modern take on this subject, you might find Roland Barthes idea of the "death of the author" appropos. Barthes' viewpoint is that the intentions and personality of the author is better not considered when considering the merit of the author's (or artist's) work. (Reprinted in Image-Music-Text )

I tend to agree with this as a writer. I like to think that my work will stand alone without anyone thinking too much about me, the person that produced it. However, as a consumer of art, I do think about the author sometimes.

Barthes also describes a related idea with is his concepts of "readerly" and "writerly" works. Readerly art easily to comsume, or reader-friendly. Writerly art can be more challenging, a work that creates and uses its own language to describe its own reality. (See The Pleasure of the Text.)

I ascribe to the idea of the death of the author and let the each stand on it's own. One of Orson Scott Card's books, Songmaster, is one of my favorites, yet, if I think of Card's background and viewpoints, I don't see much common ground between us.

What is art but a way for us to transcend ourselves?
posted by rw at 5:40 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Y'all still favorite my comments even though y'know I can be a dick.
posted by klangklangston at 5:41 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

No, with minor caveats, I do not care whether an artist whose work I enjoy was an otherwise horrible person. This strikes me as an instance of law of contagion thinking - Hitler did many horrible things, and was therefore a bad person, and anything he was involved with is thus bad by association. This ignores the complexity of human will and personalities, which, though we often deny it to ourselves and others, are fraught with inconsistencies. Bobby Fischer is a great chess player and a bigot - I don't see how the beauty of one aspect of his mind should detract from the other.

The exception would be when my appreciation for an artist isn't wholly aesthetic but is partly due to fellow feeling with them. Ian Curtis' music moves me, partly, because I feel I can identify with him. If he turned out to, say, hate black people, it would drive an uncomfortable wedge between my conceptions of Ian Curtis and myself.

I would say that much of what we think of as truly great art doesn't trade solely on identification. I think the brilliance of Bach can be appreciated even if you know nothing about his life or times - he tapped in to something near-innately human (obviously, there are always outliers). Contrast this with, oh say, Avril Levinge or Bruce Springsteen, whose fans seem to see them primarily as people they can identify with, people who have "been there" and speak to their situation.
posted by phrontist at 5:42 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Death of the Author line of thinking as well. We shouldn't attribute much to individuals.
posted by phrontist at 5:45 PM on September 16, 2009

I've found that, if an artist's actions as a person cause me such problems that I can no longer enjoy their art, their art wasn't all that great or compelling to begin with. Since enjoyment of art, be it music or sculpture or dance or anything, is a very personal preference, you shouldn't worry about this being good or bad. If you find that you can't divorce yourself from the person in order to enjoy their contribution, that just means that you're looking at it in a larger context than someone with similar morals who *can* enjoy whatever it is, despite the creator's unacceptable behavior.

If someone absolutely despicable makes something completely beautiful and mind-blowing, it's not at all difficult for me to enjoy their creation on its own merits. It doesn't make me morally compromised to enjoy it, either.
posted by Mizu at 5:52 PM on September 16, 2009

The Shin's keyboardist (marty?) beat his girlfriend. I still love their music (well, their first two albums at least), I just don't love the members that much.
posted by Think_Long at 5:55 PM on September 16, 2009

It is a factor. If I have a choice to make I will choose something by an artist who has not insulted my values.

Its pretty minor, but my daughter used to like Britney Spears' music. I bought her an album back in the early years, but when the covers started to get slutty I decided not to but anymore.

I have more respect for the artist's body of work if I respect them as a person. And an artist's excellent work and growing maturity can cause me to forgive early mistakes.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:57 PM on September 16, 2009

"All of a writer that matters is in the book or books. It is idiotic to be curious about the person. I have never made that mistake." - Jean Rhys.

The same applies to music, or any artistic discipline. Idiotic.

Eric Gill had sexual relations with his sister, his children and his dog. Beautiful fonts though.
posted by fire&wings at 5:57 PM on September 16, 2009

Have you met Kanye? Are you interacting with him on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis? If not, you can assume that any feeling of like or dislike is generated by a combination of media artifice and our mind's habit of filling in empty spaces. We know nothing about these people. I just enjoy the art and avoid the media noise.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:59 PM on September 16, 2009

John Lennon beat his wife, Cynthia, which always squicks me when I listen to "Run for Your Life." I am pretty sure everyone still thinks he's the best ever, no?
posted by Juliet Banana at 6:02 PM on September 16, 2009

I'd rather not help support people who are assholes, but of course it depends on how big of an asshole they've been.
posted by orme at 6:15 PM on September 16, 2009

I try to reserve judgment of people I have never met. "So and so is a jerk" is just hearsay, and stuff like "John Lennon beat his wife, Cynthia," is as far as I know nothing more than malicious gossip from a scummy unauthorized biography. These kind of things have no effect on my opinion at all. (and they also make me thing this should be deleted, before it turns into "post your favorite nasty celebrity gossip").

Then are those who I feel have caused documented harm to the world, for instance by using their influence to endorse the Iraq war. I have very negative feelings towards these people, but art is still art. And someone like Chuck Berry, by all reports a reprehensible person, has brought so much joy into the world by basically inventing rock and roll. I'm sure I would hate him if I met him, but as it is I am just grateful for his art.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:17 PM on September 16, 2009

I dislike the idea that an artist's life must also be easy to digest art for people too. Ignoring extreme examples like Kanye, most of them are fairly ordinary people with perhaps a lucky break or a little more talent than the average guy. Being able to write good songs or good television scripts doesnt make you a good person. They all have personal problems, they all make mistakes, they sometimes abuse the power we give them, etc.

I think Douglas Adams said something like you need to excuse someone for two years after they become rich or super successful or whatever. For some people that two year period never ends. If I had a few million Id be a proper asshole for a very long time.

Perhaps the real issue is our appetite for gossip about celebrity culture. A lot of these people are hounded by the media and the gossip mills do the rest. Unfortunately the strategy of ignoring them does not work (see the gossip about Lennon being a wife beater), so now that means carefully orchestrated PR pieces, carefully 'revealing' interviews, etc. I hate that entire scene. Stop paying so much attention to the lives of celebrities. You're hurting society when you do. We'd all be better off with Perez Hilton and Joan Rivers.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:29 PM on September 16, 2009

I really liked one author's hilarious novel, but reading his blog has soured me on him a bit. His second book didn't do much for me either (read before the blog, for what it is worth), but I'll still give his next book a go. I'm pretty okay with separating the artist from the work. Plus I don't think he's a lousy person, just not what I, personally, find appealing. Different politics, etc.

If I thought buying an artist's work would go toward something I didn't agree with (maybe they were funding a cause I was totally against) I might be hesitant to shell out the money, however.
posted by backwards guitar at 6:29 PM on September 16, 2009

>We'd all be better off with

Better off without, not with.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:31 PM on September 16, 2009

Three, simple words:

Steal his albums.
posted by emperor.seamus at 6:37 PM on September 16, 2009

Paul Simon has been, to put it politely, an 'extreme opportunist' with royalties resulting from other peoples' work on his albums. Or so say Los Lobos (and apparently Art Garfunkel, privately.) This theoretically shouldn't affect my enjoyment of his music, yet it still does.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 6:38 PM on September 16, 2009

I do not find my admiration of Bobby Fischer's brilliant chess games diminished due to his anti-Semitism and otherwise deplorable politics. Whether I ought to is debatable, but for better or for worse I am able to compartmentalize the art from the artist.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:42 PM on September 16, 2009

I might expand on that a little, actually. Basically I'm in the same circumstance as you here, and while I technically might not have ever stolen any of Kanye's albums, I do like his music, and I have never ever given him money for it.

I do think that if you have a strong moral objection to an artist, then perhaps you should do more than just passively fail to contribute. Publicize your objection, boycott their work and encourage others to do the same. However, if you don't care enough to do that kind of stuff? Then you probably shouldn't care enough to actively avoid paying him for his work either.

If you're lazy, cheap, and legally bankrupt? Then you should steal his albums. It's what I'd do.
posted by emperor.seamus at 6:45 PM on September 16, 2009

Personally I can't separate the art from the artist. Or the felony from the football player for that matter.
posted by highfidelity at 6:50 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Great artists, scientists, and other thinkers are often jackasses. You may be interested in the book "Intellectuals."
posted by rhizome at 6:55 PM on September 16, 2009

I take my art on it's own grounds and don't really care who makes it, whether it's sculpted by the wind or by drum machine. Art enriches your life, idol worship doesn't
posted by kanemano at 6:56 PM on September 16, 2009

Listening to my other friends talk about the same thing, I thought I was the only one who felt like you! I really find it hard to listen to a band for a long period of time if I don't identify with the Band. Or singer.
Exceptions happen in the case of especially older music, like classical music. ie, I probably won't reject Mozart so much even though apparently he was a jerky kid.. Not that I listen to much Mozart, but I have been reading about Erik Satie, my new favorite composer of all time, and if I heard he was all a lie I might not respect the music so much.
Like when I hear a composer later disagrees with/hates his own music, I start to find myself not liking it so much.

I just naturally get very attached to my music. It's like a human-based relationship. If we're not compatible, sooner or later it's going to show!
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 7:22 PM on September 16, 2009

On the whole, I ignore 'the artist is an asshole' and even 'the artist is a tax-cheat'. When it gets into 'the artist is an abuser of women' or 'the artist is a rapist' then I start to rethink whether I want to give that person any money or support. So, were I a fan of either of them, Kanye West's actions wouldn't have turned me off his music, but Chris Brown's would have.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:03 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

My grandparents refused to listen to Wagner because he was an anti-Semitic bastard. I think that is on the one hand a very principled and honorable stand to take, but on the other it ultimately took away from some of the richness of their lives, even if only in a small way. I like Wagner's music a lot; it's beautiful and powerful and there's not really any reason not appreciate that, even while deploring the man himself.

If nothing else, I take his music as a reminder that there is always more to bigots than just their bigoty-ness. Yeah, he was an ass, and I don't admire him, but he was a brilliant ass who felt deeply and was a great artist. It doesn't excuse any of the horrible things he said or wrote or did, but by the same virtue, all those horrible things don't negate the beauty and power of his music. They are just two different (and not wholly unconnected) products of a rather dark and prickly mind.
posted by Commander Rachek at 8:13 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think Harlan Ellison is a pretty good example right up with Orson Scott Card for authors that write well but are perhaps not the best people to make friends with -- but for a different reason*. "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream" was one of the finest works of science fiction (and it has a slight horror touch, too) I've ever read, but his reputation for being not merely ungrateful to his fans but utterly curmudgeonly and contentious for irrational reasons -- on newsgroups, for chrissakes! -- is pretty reprehensible. (He does have some good aspects about him, though, just that that reputation as well as some incidents puts him in sort of a negative light for me.)

That being said, it personally doesn't affect me when I read his works. For the most part I try to separate art and the artist, unless the artist is explicitly racist or some such. I don't really have a clear delineation on that, though, so I'll leave the rationale to better minds on the green.

* (Though I guess making friends with Ellison could be pretty cool, just that the process and lead-up to it would be mindblowingly discouraging.)
posted by zer0render at 8:16 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Coming up in the punk/hardcore DIY scene it was a major bummer when I first started to play in bands and book shows and all, to get exposed to the fact that a lot of people who's bands I really loved were total dickheads.

A couple of years later I was talking to a friend of mine who runs a pretty big indie label about it and he told me that he could tell me stories that would bum me out about every single band I liked.

I realized that everyone does things each of us might find repugnant. I figured that I could either not like anything anymore, stick my head in the sand and ignore everything I could or just get over it and enjoy what I enjoyed. I still think there is a line, like I'm not gonna get into some Nazi band cause they have good music (fuck you Screwdriver!), but for general dickishness, meh, a lot of people probabaly think I'm a dick sometimes too.
posted by teishu at 8:22 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just try to remember you're a consumer of a product. The group of people who run the corporations who make your favorite products, and farm the food you consume, etc., probably contains a large number of people you would find equally repugnant if you knew about them.

Consumer the product of their talent, but ignore the product of their image, and ignore the annoyance of their reality, I suppose.
posted by davejay at 8:28 PM on September 16, 2009

My wife is an avid reader of gossip columns, celebrity news sites and the like. Personally? I couldn't care less about the people I watch in movies, or listen to. It's easiest with actors. If I know who an actor is, or about the actor, it takes away their ability to do their job. They get paid to play someone who isn't themself, so knowing/caring about them, it's kind of counterproductive.

I guess, in other words, screw the artist. I'm not buying an album to sit down and have coffee with the band, and most likely, I wouldn't want to. The music is (with the exception of excessively autobiographical singers) totally separate from the person. Same, I hope, with actors, though the more you know about some actors (Tom Sizemore, Mel Gibson come to mind quickly), the less you can put up with them on screen, which is why I try to avoid getting to know about them.

Respect/enjoy the work. Forget about the ass. This goes perfectly well, by the way, with Oasis and the Libertines.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:58 PM on September 16, 2009

You know, when MJ died, I wondered if people felt better about buying his stuff now that the money goes to his children and not to him.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:11 AM on September 17, 2009

I like Lily Allen's music, but I think she's a really mean spirited person. I get around the fact by realising that I'm listening to her music, not her opinions.
posted by Solomon at 1:15 AM on September 17, 2009

I remember getting really upset when Celine Dion recorded a song with R. Kelly because of his child porn charges. Now, I guess it doesn't bother me as much. I had a hard time seeing Wynonna on TV after she drove drunk - I would get angry thinking about it. Now she just annoys me beacuse of the Alli commercials. And yet I guess I'm learning to separate the people from the works because while I think what Chris Brown did was horrible, I rather enjoyed the wedding dance video (my first exposure to his music), although I thought to myself that I'm not sure I would have personally picked that song to walk down the aisle to in light of what he did.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:41 AM on September 17, 2009

In most cases I can separate the artist from their art and enjoy one while mostly ignoring the other.

For me, the exception to this is Rage Against the Machine. I adore their music but I find their politics and support of Mumia Abu Jamal to be so noxious that I can't abide the thought of putting money in their pockets.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:00 AM on September 17, 2009

Nth-ing Orson Scott Card. Back in high school, my friends and I were really into the Ender series. I had finished the 2nd or so book in the parallel series, Ender's Shadow, when I learned about Card's politics (probably as the result of a Google search). After that, I stopped reading his books because it just felt weird to enjoy his fiction after being so disgusted with some of the non-fictional things he was writing and opining. As a teenager, it was a huge deal to suddenly discover that an author I liked was capable of expressing so many things I strongly disliked. So many things!

(This interview with Card also presents another, longer answer to your question - the interviewer really enjoyed reading Ender's Game, but not so much talking with its author. "When he says provocative things I agree with, he's my brother.")

Nowadays, however, I agree more with Barthes’ Death of the Author and can separate the art from the artist when the artist isn't being excessively autobiographical or personal in his work. Victorian author Thomas Carlyle is a bit problematic for me because he involved so much of himself in his writing and sometimes that self could get pretty racist. Mostly it's confined to the occasional cringeworthy minor passage of text. I'll be reading merrily along, perhaps underlining some neat turn of phrase or interesting idea, when BAM! he throws in a metaphor using non-white "barbarians" to illustrate a moral failing. Pain. And when I discovered that he wrote an essay in defense of slavery, that was pretty disconcerting, but it didn't change the fact that I still enjoyed a lot of non-racist passages from his other works, and that the non-racist percentage of his writing greatly outnumbers his less prevalent moments of ignorant buffoonery.
posted by cobwebberies at 8:08 AM on September 17, 2009

It's possible he really is a nice man but puts on an act because it sells records. So many people in that genre do it. And that awards show thing was staged, there's a tipoff right there.

Also, I'm reading a lot of these posts with an incredulous look on my face.

I'll never understand how people can take things so personally. What does it have to do with you?
posted by Zambrano at 9:09 AM on September 17, 2009

I wanted to expand a little on what I said upthread, because I think there's a difference between choosing not to support a particular artist because they are violent or otherwise despicable in an extreme way and having a negative reaction to the actual music.

The only Chris Brown song I'm familiar with is the one from that wedding video, and I think it's pretty catchy. And when I hear it, even though I know it's Chris Brown, and I know about his issues, I don't generally think "Oh! This song is by that awful, horrible Chris Brown, and I'm not enjoying it AT ALL!", I think "Oh! It's that song from that wedding video. It's catchy!" And then I sing along if there's no one else around (not because I'd be embarrassed to be seen singing the song of a guy who beat his girlfriend, but because I'm a horrible singer). But despite the fact that I find it catchy, I wouldn't buy the single off iTunes, because while I like the song, I wouldn't want to support the artist.

It can get a little more tangled if I'm specifically engaged by the lyrics of a song and those lyrics are dramatically in conflict with the realities of the artist. If Chris Brown had some quiet, singer-songwritery song about breaking a cycle of violence and not beating his wife like like his father beat his mother (note: I am not accusing Chris Brown's father of this, I just posit that as a realistic topic for a song) where the engagement came more from the message than the melody, I would have a harder time still appreciating the song.

There are sort of reverse situations, too. I have a huge problem with much of the music Toby Keith puts out. A lot of seems misogynistic and xenophobic. But at the same time, in his private life, he's apparently a centrist politically, not in favor of the Iraq war, and has been married -- apparently faithfully -- to the same woman since well before he was rich and famous, despite the fact that he's no doubt had many opportunities to trade for a trophy wife. I'm still annoyed by many of his songs, but I try to view them in a moderately more charitable light, give what I know of his life.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:40 AM on September 17, 2009

The older I get, the better I get at separating work from artist, most of the time.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:19 AM on September 17, 2009

I think that I tend to put things like this in an ill-defined, shifting matrix that somehow gauges:

1) how much I care about the artist in the first place and/or have invested in their work;

2) what they did;

3) any sort of context, if applicable (is it a rumor or a fact, historical context, etc.)

So, starting with Kanye: 1) don't really care about him or his work, thought he was speaking truth to power with "George Bush doesn't care about black people", he's done some stupid stuff since; 2) it was obviously a dick move; 3) always thought the VMAs were pretty stupid in the first place, and don't care much about Taylor Swift (or Beyonce, for that matter), but for crying out loud she's just a kid and he ruined her big day for her. His apologies really won't fix that, so shy of funding time-travel research so that he can go back and conk himself out with that Hennessey bottle, he's a dick until he redeems himself, but I really don't care that much about the situation overall.

Sometimes, what someone does is so far to the extreme of #2 that it kind of tends to put them beyond the pale. Mike Tyson is a convicted rapist. Full stop. Orson Scott Card has called for taking away the civil rights of an entire class of people. Period. Harlan Ellison has been a dick for a while, and if he'd grabbed the boob of someone half as irascible as himself, rather than that of Connie Willis, it would have been completely justifiable on the part of that person to permanently render his hand unusable. But it's ultimately forgivable, and I can still read Ellison's older work, but I've thrown away my copy of Ender's Game.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:47 AM on September 17, 2009

I think one of the interesting things about this thread is the recurring themes as to why one might dislike a particular artist. The majority cite one of three reasons:

(A) The person is a wife-beater [Chris Brown, Ike Turner, The Shin keyboardist, etc)
(B) The person is a bigot (Wagner, Bobby Fischer, etc)
(C) the person has conservative political beliefs. (Orson Scott Card, Swarzenegger, Mel Gibson, etc)

As to the last, I've heard conservatives say that, given the liberalism prevalent in the entertainment industry, they have no choice: they either get over the artists' politics, or simply stop going to see movies/listen to music.

Just thought it was interesting.

- Alaska Jack

(who, incidentally, is neither a liberal nor a conservative, and is not passing any kind of judgment here)
posted by Alaska Jack at 10:16 PM on September 17, 2009

Alaska Jack: As far as Gibson and Card are concerned, the matter goes beyond disagreeing with conservative political beliefs. Both artists really belong in your B category.

As a film student, I came to John Ford's work and found myself drawn in two directions: enthralled by the craft of his work, and in strong disagreement with his politics. The art of his films was enough for me to engage and disagree with them, and if I was to stop watching Ford's movies or hate him for being on the opposite side ideologically I would have missed out on some great, groundbreaking work.

Speaking for myself here, if the strength of the work outweighs the artist's personal issues, I have no problem consuming their art. If by contrast the artist's personality outweighs the work, I cut them loose.
posted by pxe2000 at 5:41 AM on September 18, 2009

This came up as a related question on something else, and seems to be open, though I doubt anyone will read it. Nonetheless...

For me, it makes a big difference how closely or not closely related ones art is to their lives and their bad acts. I've got no problem enjoying Tiger Woods smack a golfball a thousand miles, even though I hear he is a bit of a crybaby. But I also don't really care to see him win or really watch him play, because seeing him have a temper tantrum would wreck it for me.

Or criminal athletes- it makes a huge difference to me, maybe even more than the bad act itself, how the person deals with the consequences. Do they accept what they did, recognize that it was bad and take their lumps? (And strive to be a better person?) Way easier to forgive than a jerk who tries to get out of it or otherwise acts childishly.

The Chris Brown versus Ike Turner comparison is interesting- I'm not a great fan of either, but I can viscerally feel worse for listening to Chris Brown than Ike. Because Ike's music is not discordant with who he is.

Same thing with authors (and commentators and filmmakers)- if their work acknowledges that they are flawed and seems to come from a genuine place, it is much easier to ignore badness. A good example is that wig-wearing prick Bob Greene. Used to write for the Chicago Tribune, now contributes to CNN and other papers I think. He always wrote super sappy, "oh, it was simpler then", emotionally hyperbolic crap. And then it turns out he was not only screwing interns, but being a prick about it. Can barely even look at the guy.

Painters, photographers? Doesn't make a difference. It seems to me that that kind of art stands on its own. It is a capture of a moment, not of the personality of the artist. (Not saying that personality doesn't contribute to it, but that the communication of it is at a different level.)

Oddly enough, symphonic music can really be tough though. Maybe its just me, but there is a depth to classical-style music that just isn't there in more modern "songs". Songs are stories onto themselves, classical music digs deeper somehow. So I can absolutely understand how enjoying Wagner would be impossible for some people. It requires too much of the listener's personality to interpret the music to be able to stand on its own without being colored by the feelings toward the composer.
posted by gjc at 11:02 AM on November 11, 2009

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