Great artists, bad people?
May 11, 2022 4:22 AM   Subscribe

I am interested in thinking about the conundrum of how to understand great artists who were bad people. Who do you think should fit in this category, and has the art world resolved mixed feelings about them?
posted by mortaddams to Media & Arts (42 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
As a couple of examples: Richard Wagner, the German composer, is generally considered an anti-Semite, and James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, had multiple domestic violence arrests amongst other criminal arrests and convictions. There are many other examples as I'm sure others will mention.

There is no "correct" moral response to these things; a person can be in one situation a terrible person but in another situation a truly lovely person. We contain multitudes, as the saying goes. I say this as a Jew who abhors violence, especially against women.

If another Jew liked Wagner's music I wouldn't think them immoral or "wrong" because the man and the music are not necessarily connected. "I Feel Good" is a great tune no matter what James Brown's shortcomings might be.

On the other hand, if someone felt they couldn't listen to either Wagner or Brown because of their attitudes or actions, that would also be entirely defensible.

You might find some of the results here on ethic and art illuminating - this is a huge topic within philosophical treatments of art with no definitive answer.
posted by underclocked at 4:53 AM on May 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your term "bad people" is maybe a little too broad. Is it related to people who have committed acts that are difficult to justify? Wrong? Criminal? Debauched?

I personally find that the work of an artist can still be enjoyed, but must be lensed through an understanding of their life. It then comes down to how closely the heinous act(s) they committed are reflected in and through their work. Woody Allen is an alleged paedophile. Looking at his work and finding references to dating young girls, and even direct jokes about paedophilia makes justifying the work itself difficult. R Kelly was abusive and controlling to young women for decades. Listening to him sing that "there ain't nothing wrong, baby, with a little bump n grind" might put a bad taste in your mouth. Michael Jackson, another alleged paedophile... I find no problem at all listening to and enjoying Off the Wall, a genre defining album that he worked on whilst he was himself still very young, but then seeing the way he ascended his image through calling himself 'Bad', pushing his image onto the pop market for children, and all the later messianic imagery and saving the children crap, again, puts a bad taste in my mouth. Should we stop watching every single Hollywood movie that Harvey Weinstein was involved in? I don't think so. Yes, he used those movies to position himself in positions of power where he could abuse women in the industry, but those movies are the work of many thousands of talented people, and stand as important cultural markers. We should pay attention to what Weinstein did, understand his acts in relation to power in the industry and further afield, and open ourselves to being more aware next time.

Basically, context is everything.

I think the ultimate example of where understanding the heinous acts of an artist is crucial to contextualising their work, is the painter Paul Gauguin. By today's standards he was a paedophile, and fetishized young South Pacific women and their culture in his work. Today we can see how he abused his power and privilege, and look at his work as a reflection of the colonial ideologies of the day, at a significant time in the history of colonialism and art. Do we reject his work outright because he was 'bad'? I don't think so. We incorporate our take on his acts into the work itself. Art can still be beautiful and express horrific things. By engaging with the controversy sometimes art can bring us closer to understanding what a 'bad' act is in the first place, and understanding ourselves in the process.
posted by 0bvious at 4:59 AM on May 11, 2022 [12 favorites]

An important part of resolving such mixed feelings is by acknowledging the “badness” in the person while discussing the “goodness” of the art. I rarely hear discussion of the oeuvres of Picasso and Hemingway without mention of how they were abusive to the people in their lives. And it seems every discussion of Lovecraft acknowledges that his writing was fueled by xenophobia and racism. In this way you can discuss the art without tacitly endorsing the artist’s behavior.
posted by ejs at 5:12 AM on May 11, 2022 [3 favorites]

Dr. Seuss left his wife (who was a major influence and co wrote some of his books), who was then so devastated she committed suicide. He then sent his new wife’s children to boarding school (who have stated that it was better that way).

He also wrote very racist WWII ads, but that was typical at the time and I don’t condemn him for that the way some people do.
posted by Melismata at 5:38 AM on May 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

The 4-part documentary "We Need to Talk About Cosby" and news articles/interviews about it may be of interest.
posted by brainwane at 5:51 AM on May 11, 2022 [5 favorites]

Charles Krafft
posted by NickPeters at 6:03 AM on May 11, 2022

Best answer: I believe deeply in separating the art from the artist. I think all art—good art—is better than the flawed human beings that produced it, and that often those flaws are precisely the source of the pain and difficulty that give rise to the art, like the pearl in the oyster. I know a lot of artists and whether they act out, in ways that harm other people, or act in, and primarily hurt themselves, very very few of them are people whose lives ought to be emulated. Every time another scandal breaks about another artist who hurt people in their personal lives, I feel a kind of deep exhaustion: like, how often can this delusion that artists are good people persist? Throwing out the art of flawed human beings seems like such a waste: so often, it’s the one good thing to come out of these troubled, tragic, fucked up lives. It’s an impulse to punish something that is so far beyond anyone’s control.

I think the desire to believe in some kind of necessary relationship between the moral quality of the person and the aesthetic quality of the art causes other kinds of harm. That you’re a good artist, for example, doesn’t mean you are a good teacher, and should be trusted to have any kind of power over young people. That you’re a good artist doesn’t mean you should win your custody dispute; it doesn’t mean we should listen to your opinions about politics. I think the desire to believe in a necessary relationship between the person and the art is often the hidden cause of these hideous abuses of power: because were attached to the art, we don’t want to look at the person; we close our eyes to behavior that in any other context would be inexcusable. Separating the art from the artist goes both ways: if you can continue to value art even though the person who produced it caused harm, the value of the art does not do anything to excuse or mitigate the harm the person who created it caused.

Finally, separating the artist from the art is what allows us to see the art most clearly. The antisemitism in the Wagner, the fucked up gender dynamics in the Woody Allen films—those are there *in the art.* It was there to be seen before the public knew anything about the artists as people. Even in the age of the internet, the truth is that 99.999% of the time, the answer to the question: “What is the moral quality of the person who created this art?” has to simply be “I don’t know.” It doesn’t matter. The consumption of art is never a moral obligation: if you don’t want to watch a Woody Allen film, you don’t have to—you can avoid it for any reason, including that thinking about his personal life is too nauseating to make the experience worthwhile. (That’s where I am!) But even if Woody Allen were a paragon of humanity, there would still be strange and troubling gender dynamics in his films, without which a true assessment of his art would be incomplete, and allowing what we think we know about the artist to stand in for a rigorous assessment of the work is to abandon what I think to be our only true obligation as consumers of culture: a clear-eyed and rigorous assessment of the work.
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 6:21 AM on May 11, 2022 [37 favorites]

Carravagio got into frequent trouble with the law for brawling, violence, not paying his rent, and possibly murder.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:25 AM on May 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

"Bad person" is a relative term. Was Pablo Picasso a bad person because of his relationships with women? At the time, it might have been considered a positive macho quality. In retrospect not so much. I still find his paintings extraordinary.

On the other hand, there are some people whose actions (or purported actions) squick me out so much it overwhelms their art. I can't imagine watching a Woody Allen movie, or showing one to my kids. But on the third hand, I still love Michael Jackson's music and I'm still able to compartmentalize JK Rowling's anti-trans activity and appreciate her creative output.

I expect other people have very different boundaries.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:28 AM on May 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I draw a pretty hard line between living and dead creators, myself. I won't knowingly support a living garbage human's art. Orson Scott Card, for example, can bite my shiny metal ass; he gets not one penny from me ever.

I also worry that "all art is made by humans; all humans are flawed" is a path to "we excuse garbage humans who created art because they created art." I'm not even slightly okay with that. Non-garbage-humans created great art too.
posted by humbug at 6:32 AM on May 11, 2022 [18 favorites]

I think a lot of it will depend on how good the art is. It's much easier to forgive or gloss over the transgressions of someone who has produced great works than someone whose output probably would result in them being ignored anyway. I think this happens in a lot of areas. We can ignore or at least treat criminality more leniently if the person can otherwise "produce".

Also, if the person is dead enjoying their works doesn't encourage their bad acts in the same way that it would for someone who is still living.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:37 AM on May 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

Roman Polanski doesn't get a cent of my money for the rest of his life, but once in a blue moon I get an urge to watch Rosemary's Baby, and I already own ("own", as much as one owns a digital copy of anything these days) so he's not getting any new support from me. So I don't beat myself up about it too much.

But I don't believe I'll ever derive enjoyment from anything of JK Rowling's ever again, whether she's getting my financial support or not. If I still had anything of hers I'd be giving it away because I wouldn't want it around anymore.

Is there any consistency there? Not particularly, unless it's about how much I liked the art in the first place, which isn't any kind of way to make moral decisions. But I will say that I think about these decisions a lot harder in cases like these where the creators are still alive and potentially benefiting from my eyeballs on their work, and also where I'm pretty comfortable judging them based on modern standards.
posted by Stacey at 6:39 AM on May 11, 2022 [4 favorites]

Heck, I cannot believe I misspelled Caravaggio!
posted by heatherlogan at 6:43 AM on May 11, 2022 [3 favorites]

Michelangelo and Chopin were obviously gay. In certain time periods (and right now today in certain cultures) that would have categorized them as 'bad people'. The art world has certainly not resolved their "mixed feelings" in this regard with respect to Chopin; witness the ongoing battle over the censorship of his surviving personal letters.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:48 AM on May 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

There is nothing good to say about the behaviour of typographer and sculptor Eric Gill. Massive CW on searching for anything about his life.
posted by scruss at 6:55 AM on May 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've thought about this in the past, but your question got me thinking a little deeper, and I think there are a few things at play. The first is the nature of celebrity. A lot of people are crappy, and yet we don't reject their work because we simply don't know enough about them. The barista who made your latte at Starbucks this morning might beat his girlfriend, or might be a virulent online troll, but you still accepted your drink from him, because you don't have any way of knowing if he's a garbage human. The difference with someone like R. Kelly is that the world in general knows a lot more about R. Kelly. There's a slippery slope argument here, which is that if you knew the flaws and crimes of everyone you came in contact with, and only did business with those of whom you approved, you might not be able to live a life. Back to the artist stuff, there was a band I liked called Surfer Blood, whose lead singer was arrested for domestic violence. But if you were to hear Surfer Blood on the radio today, you might not think anything of it, because Surfer Blood is pretty obscure and the incident was ten years ago and that's a long time to remember something about someone so obscure. If, like, Eddie Vedder were in the same situation, you'd probably remember that a lot more clearly. So it's interesting that the only reason we're aware of the person's badness is because of their art's goodness.

The second thing is the creative nature of art, and the role of the artist as creator. Someone like Michael Jackson, cited above, was so meticulous about his music, and even the secondary aspects like videos and concert stages, that it's hard to believe he wouldn't be meticulous about the kid stuff. This is a guy who basically shaped the entire world around himself to fit his vision. It's easy to see the distasteful stuff as being an extension of that vision.

I also think there's some wiggle room based on how the personal life stuff is incorporated into the art. As far as I'm aware, there's no transphobic content in any of the Harry Potter books. So while JK Rowling is a pretty well-known transphobe at this point, you can still engage with Harry Potter without having that hit you over the head. Contrast that to Dave Chappelle, who has doubled down on the transphobia thing by making it a part of his standup. You can't separate his work from the personal badness anymore. Michael Jackson sang about kids, R Kelly sang about sex, and when you hear them sing about those things, it's hard for the bad stuff not to bubble up. But Dr. Seuss is an example upthread, and he wrote about cats in hats. It's a lot harder to tie that to being a jackass IRL (although, for the record, the Cat in the Hat is an enormous jackass and they should've listened to the fish).
posted by kevinbelt at 7:00 AM on May 11, 2022 [9 favorites]

I was thinking about Oscar Wilde, who was pretty much ruined as an artist for the remainder of his life after he was jailed because of what was considered horrific immorality at the time. Yet now we'd be more likely to judge his friend James McNeill Whistler, who completely abandoned Wilde after his arrest. It's important to me not to judge artists or really anyone based on standards that didn't exist when they were living.

I theoretically believe in separating the art from the artist. But emotions become part of this as well, and I can't always do it. I can't watch Bill Cosby's standup routines and appreciate them as art.

Charles Dickens seems to get a pass for abandoning his wife and children for an 18-year-old actress (he was 45). I also remember an episode of The Waltons where John Boy was besotted with Gauguin's going to the South Seas to paint, and Grandma Walton said something like "I wonder how Mrs. Gauguin felt about that." At the time, it seemed to be meant to show that Grandma Walton just didn't understand art and artists - and now I find myself on her side. (This was the 70s, so other issues with Gauguin, mentioned above, weren't really getting attention yet.)
posted by FencingGal at 7:08 AM on May 11, 2022 [3 favorites]

Peter Sellers was a true comic genius, but also a highly destructive dick to his wives and kids. Physical abuse, psychological abuse, you name it. The trail of wreckage just goes on and on and on.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:14 AM on May 11, 2022

Best answer: I was brought up in close-reading, with a side of Death of the Author. That's an approach that ignores biographical details in favor of what's on the page/canvas/celluloid, i.e. separate the art from the artist.

The problem with that approach, though, is that it tends to maintain the status quo in terms of who gets artistic attention -- the default "artist" is usually (though not always) older white men, who usually (though not always) get a pass for bad behavior because they are a Great Artist. Whereas discussions of art created by people of color or women usually (though not always) gets refracted through the lens of their identity.

Interesting to bring up Caravaggio, for instance. His Judith Beheading Holofernes is super tentative. You can't decapitate a person from that angle.

By contrast, Gentileschi's Judith Slaying Holofernes is extremely physical. It was painted a year after Gentileschi was raped, sued her rapist (well, her dad sued, because as a woman she had no legal standing), and during the trial was tortured with thumbscrews to verify her testimony. I mean, it's really hard not to read that into her Judith, who knows exactly what she is doing to H. and why. And unlike Caravaggio's Judith, this one is going to succeed.

Just to complicate matters, I do think it's possible, in some cases, to separate the artist from the art. And there is definitely some "judge not lest ye be judged" going on. But as I get older, I'm less inclined to believe in "pure art" (in a Death of the Author sense) because art is created by and shared by and canonized by individual flawed humans.
posted by basalganglia at 7:23 AM on May 11, 2022 [11 favorites]

I struggle with this. Marion Zimmer Bradley was one of my favorite writers growing up, but she most likely sexually abused her kids, and at the very least allowed her husband to do it. I can't read her anymore. But I can't give up Michael Jackson, who occupied a similar place in my pantheon. I won't watch Woody Allen movies anymore, but it helps that I no longer find his older films that interesting and I have zero desire to see anything he's made in 20 years.
posted by goatdog at 7:28 AM on May 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

As far as I'm aware, there's no transphobic content in any of the Harry Potter books.

Until you look at Rita Skeeter, described in Goblet of Fire as having a "heavily jawed face," "mannish hands" and "a surprisingly strong grip," who transforms herself in order to infiltrate spaces where she's not supposed to go so she can spy on children.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:39 AM on May 11, 2022 [8 favorites]

I'm not in the art world, but I live with someone who is. My vaguely informed sense is that what reasonably thoughtful museum and gallery people typically do today is include a very frank description of the all bad things at the top in the handout/placard and then show it anyway. That doesn't seem like a terrible choice to me, but thoughtful people will disagree. (Natural history and anthropology/archeology museums have clearly not yet caught up, and usually just show the object without mentioning the human suffering caused just by its acquisition. There are a few exceptions.)
posted by eotvos at 7:57 AM on May 11, 2022 [3 favorites]

It’s difficult. If you had an absolute zero-tolerance policy for any kind of shittiness, you’d lose so much stuff. It’s easy enough to discard Georgette Heyer for her blatant anti-semitism. But if you discard just the anti-semites, you lose Wagner, T.S. Eliot, Dickens, Shakespeare, and Chaucer, and that’s a pretty big chunk taken out of the Western canon. And maybe some people feel that’s a fair trade-off? Or maybe you draw some kind of line between historical and modern anti-semitism, where you still read Chaucer but you stop reading Alice Walker?

And that’s before you get to other kinds of racists, and misogynists, and homophobes, and people who were shitty in their personal relationships.

I don’t think there is a good answer. Personally I tend to go for ‘separate the art from the artist’ but maybe it’s just intellectual cowardice. And it’s impossible anyway; I can’t enjoy Gauguin any more because the sex tourism is so deeply central to the art, but if I genuinely approached those paintings with no knowledge of the artist's biography — not knowing his gender or race or nationality, or when they were painted — would I really be able to see that stuff in the paintings? Art always comes with context, it’s just sometimes I prefer not to think about it.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 7:59 AM on May 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

One of my favorite musicians, Canadian singer-songwriter Matthew Good, was recently alleged to have a history of fairly awful treatment towards women, including lots of cheating on his wives, and sexual interest in teenage fans. No charges have been filed as far as I know, but several women have stated more or less "he approached me when I was 16-17." It's not quite a Polanski situation for me, but I can't listen to his music uncritically anymore. In the past he aligned himself with mental health charities that were important to me, and his songwriting is pretty personal about that part of his life experience, which was really helpful/meaningful to younger-me, but also makes it difficult to separate from "oh, sounds like he was being a creeper the whole time."
posted by Alterscape at 8:07 AM on May 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

I think I'm influenced by being Gen-X and having studied Dead White Guys a lot but...I don't think I've ever assumed that good art comes from good people. Or at least, people who look good/do good acts in the world.

In fact, I think if I really sat with my biases, I believe that in order to be a really really good artist, or at least writer, it helps to have a slightly anti-social, at least, side. I do think really great artists (and I do centre that quality first) can also seek to be good people, but it may be harder to let your artistic light shine and be commercially successful and be a good person than it is to just pour all your effort into your art and then not deal with your rage or whatever it is.

By necessity there, I don't see "garbage people" as natively garbage people, I see them as flawed people who have let their flaws grow.

In some ways I think a lot of art requires serving the story, or the piece, and when you do that you are in a way stepping away from certain considerations.

As for how I reconcile that...I largely don't. I too have my boundaries about living artists and supporting them financially, and I too have a list of artists that I can't watch onscreen or choke through their works any more. And I have a list of artists where I'm not happy still seeing their works as groundbreaking but I do. And I have a list of artists where I feel really sad...a lot of the Old Colonial Boys, for example, because their works were both really well executed and thoughtful but also choked with racism and sexism and a narrowness of thought (Lord of the Flies is one of those pieces for's entirely possible that a group of British schoolboys would behave that way but it's because their entire social system was so destructive, not because it's necessarily human nature or there's a return to "savagery" or whatever idiotic thing.)
posted by warriorqueen at 8:30 AM on May 11, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I would submit that there is a difference between "I struggle with my demons and here is my art" and "Hey I can use my power as an artist/celebrity to do shitty things". I often use this distinction to help me decide of my relationship to the art.
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:34 AM on May 11, 2022 [28 favorites]

The place where I usually draw the line is how much the artist's ego or personality is bound up with the work - the less it is, the more it is possible to separate the work from the person.

OHenryPacey's comment just above absolutely OTM - that's about the best rule of thumb for this kind of judgment call.
posted by remembrancer at 9:02 AM on May 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

But if you discard just the anti-semites, you lose Wagner, T.S. Eliot, Dickens...

In fairness, Dickens seems to have taken to heart the feedback he received on his antisemitism. (Of course, as that Wikipedia page makes clear, he had all sorts of other racist Eurocentric views.)
posted by Winnie the Proust at 9:59 AM on May 11, 2022

Another example: Scott Adams. He is routinely condemned here on Metafilter, partially because he trolled the site a while back. But he saved my sanity many times with his Dilbert comic strip, and I will always defend his art.

This is a great discussion.
posted by Melismata at 10:13 AM on May 11, 2022

This is a great discussion.

It's a complex question, and there are several excellent comments here!

Heck, I cannot believe I misspelled Caravaggio!

Usually I expect to see snark about how a typo is like some kinda moral failure.
posted by ovvl at 10:58 AM on May 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

Jimmy Page openly dated 13 year old Lori Mattox when he was 28. Nobody seems to care. Mattox was supposedly also with David Bowie and Mick Jagger, but Page openly dated and was regularly photographed with her.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:20 AM on May 11, 2022

I think it's easier to separate the artist from the art once the artist is dead. As time passes, every artist's work is automatically reevaluated on its own merits compared with those who are still living and the ones who came before, and some drop out of favor or acclaim on their own. And the ones that stand the test of time get biographies written, where they can be held fully accountable to history. It's not perfect, but the work is still the work.

When the artist is living, there's the extra issue of them benefiting while awful. Whether the art is good or not, you don't want them getting your money for it.

Not sure if you consider fashion as art or not, but I have an incredibly hard time with John Galliano. He made, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful clothing created in my lifetime. He also went beyond garden-variety anti-semitism into you should be gassed territory. He's apologized and blamed it on substance abuse (is that an excuse?), but I can't get past it. There was just a huge Dior retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum, and as far as I know there weren't any protests (and as far as I know, his hateful comments weren't even mentioned (but I'd love to be wrong). But I couldn't bring myself to go. I'd love to see the clothes. I kept weighing how I feel about it, but in the end, if my tiny extra attendance helped burnish his legacy, it would eat me up. But damn he knew how to cut a skirt.
posted by Mchelly at 12:52 PM on May 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

Claire Dederer wrote an article, "What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?" for the Paris Review in 2017. I'm not sure it provides answers, but it has given me a lot to think about as we continue to find that things we like were made by horrible people. (Looking at you Joss Whedon.)
posted by museum nerd at 1:27 PM on May 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm on a lifetime boycott of tarantino because he intentionally destroyed that one of a kind antique martin guitar (that he borrowed from the martin museum).

it's easy for a lot of people to separate the art from the artist. every US sporting event would be altered if they couldn't. Gary Glitter was the leading trafficker of child porn in europe at the time of his arrest.

prince famously destroyed Captain Kirk Douglas' (the roots) one of a kind guitar by throwing it offstage to crash into bits.

i can separate sometimes, but it takes effort and diminishes my experience.
posted by j_curiouser at 2:52 PM on May 11, 2022

My bar is pretty low for not engaging with an artist's work due to known bad behavior. Usually this is because the bad behavior represents an underlying viewpoint (misogyny, racism, homophobia, etc.) that I don't consider up for debate and I'm not interested in engaging with their ideas. I also just don't watch / read things that I think are likely to upset/traumatize me with no upside. If I'm going to learn something or understand the viewpoint of an oppressed group, yes, that's worthwhile. Most of the time it's not (gives "prestige television" a hairy eyeball).

People are going to draw different lines that work for them here. If I was invested in a genre and wanted to discuss x aspect of Bad Person's work then I might feel differently about it but still avoid giving them money if living / copyrighted. But overall, there is SO MUCH ART, and I can keep by brain meats busy with stuff by people who I don't know to have abhorrent views.
posted by momus_window at 3:05 PM on May 11, 2022 [3 favorites]

>Jimmy Page openly dated 13 year old
I didn't know this. I was always uncomfortable about Bill Wyman.

Led Zeppelin and a lot of the other 1960s bands were known for recording songs written by others and not giving songwriting credits. I'd vote that repeated plagiarism makes one a bad person, especially when they made scads of money and the original writers weren't as well off.

I stopped listening to classic rock when I found out about the original song writers.
posted by philfromhavelock at 3:51 PM on May 11, 2022

Balthus is in this category. I love his painting style (image of a young girl clothed, but with her leg up so we see her underwear) but I can't look at his work without feeling gross. The guy was a pedophile. On the other hand, I have no problem looking at Mapplethorpe's photo of Rosie, an image of a young girl without underwear (NSFW the image is exactly what I described). For me, Balthus is a pedophile, Mapplethorpe is asking legitimate questions about the boundaries between pornography and photography. There's no desire in Mapplethorpe's photo of Rosie (or another one he took of Jessie McBride a naked boy, also NSFW) but Balthus' work is nothing but desire. Other people might see it differently. I cover a fair amount of art history in Humanities classes I teach and I let my students know if an artist (i.e. Gauguin, as noted above) was horrible in their personal life because I am also covering the context of the times they were working in and the times that we are living in.
posted by Cuke at 5:03 PM on May 11, 2022

Can you separate the doctor from their practice? Businessperson from their business? I think we do. Good and bad is within each of us. Do we separate our virtues from our vices? Yes, because we are privy to only our intentions and not other’s circumstances, justifications or intentions!
posted by cynicalidealist at 6:58 PM on May 11, 2022

R. Kelly has, of course, been mentioned. I have my own lines between living/dead, used art or celebrity for ill/how much of the bad comes out in the art, etc. but....

My personal hang-up is actually Aaliyah. I have cds from when I was a teen in the 90s. Is it still ok for me to enjoy her if he's not profiting from it? Can I handle some of the lyrics now, knowing what I know now? (yes, but that's another story for my therapist)

It really is a shame how he was allowed to taint Aaliyah's talent.

I have my own scales for measuring and separating art from artist, and I'm mostly ok with them, but the above has been bugging me for years.
posted by MuChao at 7:01 PM on May 11, 2022

I think that some art is intrinsically bound up with the artists worldview and some is much less so.

Eric Gill did some truly terrible things for which he was entirely unapologetic and I don't think you can engage with him as a sculptor and artist generally without taking those into account. On the other hand, his typography was really good, and as a body of work stands more outside him as a person than his sculpture.

Wagner's nationalism/anti-semitism arguably influenced his choice of opera subject matter. However his eg innovations in harmony and leitmotiv don't feel influenced by his views in the same way. I think Wagner should be studied by musicologists and tend to agree with Stephen Fry that it is too good and important not to be performed.

Both Gill and Wagner are dead, which also makes a difference to my response. I feel like it's inappropriate to listen to Lostprophets music, knowing what I know about their lead singer, convicted paedophile Ian Watkins. This is an unfortunate consequence for the rest of the band who had absolutely nothing to do with his wrongdoing.
posted by plonkee at 6:22 AM on May 12, 2022

It's a minor key version, but I've become aware that two actors on different Star Trek series – secondary but important characters – support right wing causes in the U.S., which I slightly flinched to learn. This slightly flavours my appreciation of their performances, but doesn't spoil my involvement in the overall plot lines.
posted by zadcat at 6:38 AM on May 13, 2022

Keep in mind that one way a person can become a great artist is by not wasting their time on normal human decency. So if you are talking about an artist who was just generally as ass to the people in their lives, then I'm kind of usually okay with it. Although I wouldn't say I have hard and fast rules.

However, there are a couple of cases where I have personal knowledge of truly mean and nasty behavior being the norm - like shoving a waitress while stomping out in a huff. Cannot let that go. (As it happens, I'm not a fan of the work in either case, but the people I have in mind are super famous.)

(I though Jimmy Page openly kidnapped a 13-year old. Which is not what I would call dating. No matter how she, herself, perceived it at the time.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:06 PM on May 14, 2022

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