Student discusses separation of art and artist, the role of the media in art

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Olivia Nobles

Staff Writer

In a world where fame is king, and celebrities are icons, it’s important for the rest of society to recognize the divide between artist and art. 

Pop culture icons have always been regarded as the members of society whose opinions somehow carry more weight than the rest of us; however, as individuals, they are less impervious to character flaws than the rest of us. With the steadily increasing power of the media, the personal lives of cultural icons have become available for public consumption, for better or for worse. 

The more we see into the private lives of celebrities, the more certain I feel in stating that the Hollywood elite, despite their talents, have no more ability to distinguish right from wrong than the average person. What distinguishes them from the masses is their success which hinges on the support of everyday people. 

Because our views, downloads, purchases and comments often fund those creating the content we absorb, I believe we have an ethical obligation to be critical. 

One cultural conversation which has been ongoing for many years is the concept of distinguishing the art and the artist as separate entities. Some have rather binary opinions, thinking that the artist as a person should never influence the reception of their creation, or that the two are completely inseparable.

Personally, I’ve found myself walking a path somewhere in the middle. 

Of course, everyone is flawed. It’s impractical to boycott the work of any person who deviates from your personal, political, moral or religious beliefs in small ways, so each consumer must choose which issues are serious enough to withhold support. 

I find myself drawing the line at violent crimes, either convicted or with multiple accusations, and discriminatory behavior toward minority groups. These opinions are personal; for some, a drug charge may be a serious issue, and for others, insensitive jokes about weighty topics might receive a pass.

So long as you’re putting thought into what behavior you do or do not want to condone, I believe progress is being made, even if others disagree with the criteria you’ve developed. 

Of course, not every artist currently benefits from monetary support. Many long deceased classical artists whom we study in our music, literature and art history courses have personal lives fraught with scandals, crimes and abuse.

I don’t believe censoring classical poetry or sculpture because of the lives of the creator benefits anyone, especially since a dead artist can’t collect royalty checks. I do believe an education in the classics isn’t complete without an overview of the artist, and I think we shouldn’t shy away from discussing the problematic aspects of their personal lives, as well.

This conversation is, of course, much more nuanced than developing a baseline criterion and determining if someone is alive or dead before swearing off monetary support.

For example, many movies feature a single actor, a director or a cast member guilty of some inexcusable action, but should the rest of the people drawing checks from that movie suffer because of the personal life of one contributor?

At what point does an apology from the artist negate previous wrongdoings? Are apologies for petty theft and hate crimes equal?

I certainly don’t have all the answers, and I don’t imagine any single person does. However, I do believe we shoulder the burden of consideration for these things as consumers, and I think responsibly appreciating any art should entail some element of self-reflection.

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