Art and Morality: Should We Separate the Art From the Artist?

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Should we separate the art from the artist? Can we?

On a fundamental level, I believe that this is not possible. 

Artists are not software designers or drill manufacturers or even city planners. They are not simply creating something with only a practical application. If they were, we could consider the possibility that they do not influence our moral or personal lives. 

However, art is a very personal thing for most of us. Art is something that we look to for guidance in times of pain or despair, it is something that we absorb through our hearts and soul more than anywhere else. Art is ultimately a relationship between an artist and their fan. And all relationships require a certain amount of trust.

When an artist does something immoral and we decide to look past it because of love or nostalgia for their art, we are essentially telling ourselves that their behavior is okay. We are in essence giving them permission to act in destructive ways by treating their art as if it were separate from them when it is not. 

For comparison, imagine that an artist was not simply someone whose paintings, songs, or films we enjoyed but instead was a caretaker for our child? How then, would their behavior matter to us even if it occurred in an unrelated area of their life? Even if they have always been a reliable and trustworthy caretaker, would it not still change our view of them enough for us to remove them from that role?

I believe that for most of us, the behavior of our child’s caretaker would matter and this is the same reason that we can no longer appreciate an artist’s work after they have shown themselves to be immoral. They have shown us that we cannot trust them and therefore, we no longer understand their full intentions.

Once a person has proven themselves capable of doing something we so fundamentally disagree with we no longer wish to have their influence in our lives. 

The real question we should be asking ourselves is not, “Should we separate the art from the artist?”—because, fundamentally, a good artist is their art—but rather, “Can we forgive people for their immoral acts and what does that entail?”

For the artist, I believe that this comes in the form of showing self-awareness in their future work by demonstrating a desire for genuine retribution and self-reflection.

Even with this, however, I don’t believe that any of us have a responsibility to forgive an artist. 

Still, is forgiveness and a reemergence possible? I believe it is.

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