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Separating the Art from the Artist December 24, 2023

separating art artist

It feels like such a tired old thing to say that the internet and social media is both a curse and a blessing.  But every day I think it’s truer.

On the one hand, I like sitting on my sofa and being able to shout at Alexa and ask her whatever random thing about whatever random B-list celebrity shows up on my screen whenever the mood strikes me.  “Alexa.  How tall is Paul Hollywood?”  (Answer – 5 feet, 7 ½ inches.)  “Alexa.  How much is Sylvester Stallone worth?”  (Answer — $400 million.)  On the other, I really didn’t need to know the nuances and particular kinks of people whose movies and music I might otherwise enjoy.

I used to think Mel Gibson was mightily attractive, yes I did.  But now?  I can’t bear the sound of his voice, not even in Chicken Run, which is a pretty good movie, and he was pretty well cast as the arrogant rooster. 

Which begs the age old question: can you separate the art from the artist?

I’ve given this question a great deal of thought, more thought than the question is probably worth, likely because giving this question thought crowds out the things I ought to be thinking about which are thornier and more difficult and not to be talked about in a public forum. 

And here’s what I think.  Yes, you can.  “Great Balls of Fire” is a great song, and Jerry Lee Lewis was a heck of a piano player.  All of that despite the fact that Jerry Lee Lewis was a disgusting toad who married his thirteen[1] year old first cousin.  Then divorced her claiming she abused him.  The Ring Cycle contains three amazing operas with recognizable tunes to anyone who has ever watched Bugs Bunny cartoons[2] but Richard Wagner, the composer, was a literal Nazi.  Edgar Degas, who painted all those beautiful ballerinas, was a raging anti-semite; Pablo Picasso got his artistic jollies from demeaning the women in his life. 

So what do we do?  Do we refuse to listen to Lewis’ music or watch Mel Gibson’s[3] movies or appreciate the delicate nature of impressionist ballet dancers?  Do we partake and feel guilty about it, not letting ourselves truly enjoy it?

I think it comes down to the marketplace of ideas.  We live in a capitalist society, let capitalism rule.  It makes a difference to me where the money goes.  I don’t want a single one of my dollars going to line Mel Gibson’s pockets.  I can vote that way.  Hollywood[4], I know you live or die on the spending habits of Lori Duff, and I said what I said.  But I think it’s different when the artist is long dead and/or the copyright has long since lapsed.  If no one awful is making money, then I’m free to enjoy it.

People are complicated.  I’ve yet to meet anyone who is a hundred percent good or bad.  I can’t say how someone can juggle hating Jews and creating beautiful art in the same brain, but I’ve seen it happen.  As a writer, I spend a lot of time digging into what makes people tick, and this is one more mystery.  I can spend a lot of time gazing at a painting, wondering what made the artist see the subtle beauty in his subject that others have trouble seeing and so much ugliness in others that isn’t even there.    

[1] Yes, thirteen.  He was in his twenties.

[2] https://youtu.be/KZTE9MDoaLs

[3] Or Woody Allen’s

[4] Not Paul Hollywood, the place.

If you enjoyed this and want to read more like it, visit Lori on Twitter or on Facebook or read her award-winning books.  You can order her novella, “Broken Things”, by clicking here.  The audiobook can be found on Audible or iTunes.  Look for her novel “Devil’s Defense” coming in November 2024 by She Writes Press.

Separating the Art from the Artist


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Separating the Art from the Artist


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Lori Duff

Lori B. Duff is an award-winning author who practices law on the side.  Her latest book, "If You Did What I Asked in the First Place" was awarded the Gold Medal for humor in the Foreword INDIES awards in 2019. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook. For more blogs written by Lori, click here. For more information about Lori in general, click here. If you want Lori to do your writing for you, click here. If you want Lori to help you market your book, click here.

Separating the Art from the Artist December 24, 2023