FridayFix • Can you separate Art from the Artist?

FridayFix - Gibson, Vick, MetallicaThis week we take you inside a normal workday conversation here at the Empty Set Entertainment offices.

The question we’re working out in this episode is if it’s possible to separate the artist from the art. Moreover, when the artist becomes a disappointment due to human failings, can you continue to enjoy works created prior to the fall?

We discuss several entertainers: Michael Vick, Mel Gibson and Metallica. To varying degrees, their real-world behavior has changed the way we view them as people, as artists, and as entertainers.

What do you think?  Has reality shattered one of the most favorite, creations you’ve enjoyed through the years? Does real-world behavior influence your choices? Join the conversation in the comments below!

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  1. Laith

    Hey Everyone,
    I’m way way behind at the moment but thought I’d pop my 2 cents in.
    I’ve thought about this when it comes to Tom Cruise. I love his older works like Top Gun, Cocktail, Rain Man, and also newer movies like Edge of Tomorrow, Oblivion, Valkyrie, that he made after the couch bouncing crazy.

    And so I see it like this. Tom Cruise the celebrity / public figure, I can’t stand. I just totally went off him after the Oprah interview and all the religious crazy means that if I was ever lucky enough to have dinner with Tom Cruise, I’d stay home and have mum’s lamb roast. (It’s an Australian thing)

    When it comes to “his” movies. I don’t like saying it that way. Mainly because a lot of people put their skills and time into making those movies. Tom Cruise is the face that brings the character to life, but there are hundreds more that you don’t see also working on that movie behind the camera also bringing that character, and the world, to life.

    Will I stop watching movies with him in them? No.
    Will I watch him on Ellen? Only if I’m really interested in the movie.
    Would I have dinner with him? No.
    Would I have dinner with him if it got me a leading role? Fuck Yeah!

    / 2 cents

  2. sadock

    As far as Michael Vic goes, I remember talking to @MsInformation about how Philadelphia residents should boycott the Eagles games when that story first broke. This was way back before he’d been convicted or served his sentence. And boycotting an artist, company, band, movie, or team whose views or actions you don’t like or agree with of remains an effective way of expressing one’s disapproval.

  3. sadock

    Yeah, I’m behind on my podcasts. It happens. Bad Junkie, no biscuit. But I’m still going to comment because I really enjoyed this FridayFix™. An intelligent discussion with both of y’all elucidating your rationale.

    After some quick research into the Metallica issue, it appears that they sued Napster, the file sharing site, *not* their fans. Personally, I find this quite a bit more palatable. Still not exactly acceptable IMHO, but much better than personally suing Susie, Bobby, Johnny, and Lucy Doe.

    As far as getting @scottsigler‘s audiobooks for free, many people forget that grabbing it over at can easily result in a triple win. Yeah, they have to listen to an ad before each episode. But 1) they’re getting a high quality audiobook absolutely free 2) they save $$$ if they use the code from the ad and 3) Scott gets $$$ if they use that code. It’s one of those oh so rare situations where everyone *can* actually benefit. You can grab everything but The Champion & Pandemic currently:

    Yes, I’m a *huge* Podiobooks pimp. Being a Podiobooks Patron every month was the *only* recurring PayPal payment I left active when I went dark from mid 2012->late 2014

    Okay, gotta go to lunch. May post more later, but doesn’t let me save a draft, and I don’t want to lose what I have already.

  4. Tony Reimer

    Interested to know “what if” Vick had numbers sufficient enough to get him into the Hall of Fame? Does he go? What about Pete Rose? He transgressed against the game directly, so the situation is different. But is his banishment from the game justified for that reason alone while Vick’s return is allowed because his crime was external to football?

    Really tricky topic. For my part, I find it completely necessary to separate the art from the artist. In my field, music composition, we often know very little about the folks we listen to as the details of their personal lives are obscured by time. They all could have been complete bastards for all we really know…

    Thanks for the good conversation…

  5. jokerdas

    This is indeed an intriguing topic. Here are my thoughts on the subject:

    I found it interesting that this discussion is just before episode 22 of The Champion. The discussion about Vick and the comments that what he did reflects his culture and up bringing, how where he was raised this was acceptable and how in the greater society it is abysmal, seems almost reflective of Q’s discussion with John regarding the pink smoke clouds. (Albeit reversed.) He finds the actions abysmal, but greater society (the galaxy) is fine with it.
    “Q, it’s been a long time since you went all hayseed on me.” -John Tweedy
    What Vick did was reprehensible, but he acknowledged it, and made good on his punishment and even goes the next step to bring awareness of the behavior to peoples who held the same beliefs. Good for him. I wasn’t a big Michael Vick fan before it happened, still not a big fan now, so it has not changed my perception of him as a person or an athlete.

    Mel Gibson…. What a jerk! That is my opinion, and I am entitled to it just like he is entitled to his opinion. Just as long as he does not put action to his attitude, he can say and believe what he chooses. I was a Gibson fan back from Mad Max and Lethal Weapon, and well honestly, I will still watch those movies. His real-life persona has not truly spoiled the movies for me.

    Metallica? Well, it was a dick move to sue fans. I think there could have been a different way to handle it without alienating the individuals who put them on that pedestal. I was a fan, and I still enjoy their music. …And Justice for All is the only album I spent money on. The rest I have nabbed the clips from their official YouTube channel. So what is the difference there?

    Here is something to think about. Near as I can tell, Scott Sigler seems to keep many parts of his private life private, with the notable exceptions of Ma Sigler and Coach. Scott’s art (his stories) are open and accepting of any race, age, gender, religion and sexual orientation. Does that mean Scott the artist is also tolerant and accepting of all those things? Just because he writes of violence and abuse does not mean he condones or supports violence or abuse. Scott announced he has beliefs as a result of his upbringing that he would not suspend, bend or break no matter who it offends. If he made these possibly offensive beliefs publicly known, would it affect his readership and fan base? Is that possibly the reason he does NOT make them fully known, because there are people who cannot separate the artist from the art as they claim? I don’t really think so. Everyone who reads his books know that he is definitely wired differently!

    For me, I can easily separate the artist from the art as easily as separate fantasy from reality.

  6. taylorconnie

    We all make decisions on personal moral grounds everyday, it’s what shapes a society as a whole… Paying your debt to society by serving prison sentences or paying monetary fines doesn’t expunge the deed… Everyone has a right to a paycheck… As a society we have a right to affect that income by not reading that book, go to that film, buy that merchandise because that persons actions do not resonate with our own personal code.

    I can’t seperate the artist from art … I don’t expect them to be perfect but I can’t help be influenced by my personal values…they are all that I have…

  7. Marc Ludena

    This was a great topic, and a fascinating conversation. Just as sometimes it’s best not to meet your heroes, it’s sometimes better to not know anything about an artist you admire. But it’s difficult, really, to do that.

    Does it make art any less great if the person making it is a terrible person? No. It doesn’t. But it does color my perception of the work. If it’s work that I still engage with (in Scott’s case, if Metallica comes up on his playlist), mostly I get sad that I can’t fully enjoy the work.

    But the Metallica argument is similar to what happens if I find that I disagree politically with a creator. Sort of like how Frank Miller has gotten a little too right wing for me as of late. I can still enjoy the work he did on The Dark Knight Returns or Sin City, but in the back of my head, I’m thinking about opinions I’ve heard him express. Then again, he didn’t do anything criminal.

    Roman Polanski is a really good example. He did some bad things, but no doubt his work is genius. As an artist myself, I want to see all the work — even the work of “bad” people, if the work is good. Because I want to learn from that work.

    The work doesn’t disappear once we find out that the artist is a terrible person. Being a terrible person isn’t (usually) what made the art good. It’s just a facet of the human that made the work.

    But here’s a question I want to pose: In the case of an artist who is dead, and his/her misdeeds come to light after he or she dies, does that change things for you?

    And in a related idea, what if that artist’s misdeeds aren’t criminal in nature, but rather were just attitudes that were considered socially acceptable during the time he or she were living? There were plenty of casually racist artists in the last century. Mel Gibson wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow not that long ago. We’ve evolved as a society with regards to animal cruelty, misogyny and perhaps even domestic abuse on some level. Can you still enjoy the the work of someone who you’d find abhorrent today, but really wasn’t extraordinarily wicked during his time?

  8. Zach Ricks

    At first blush, what I care about isn’t what a person’s politics or social views are. I care about whether or not they can tell a good story, sing a good song, etc. If I couldn’t do that, I’d probably never listen to popular music again.

    Now, there are three things that can cause a little consternation on my end.

    One is when an artist is so hung up on delivering their message that they neglect to tell the story. I see this all the time, and refer to it as the “sledgehammer of morality.” “Heeeeeere’s your MESSAGE!” *WHAM* I still can’t think about the end of the SyFy (shudder) channel’s Battlestar Galactica without making sure I’m on my blood pressure meds. “The technology we currently use may someday become human-killing deathbots! OOOGA BOOGA BOOGA!”

    Two, and closely related, is when an author’s story reveals a world-view that essentially kills my enjoyment.

    And three is when I become inadvertently aware via an author’s blog or social media presence that the author in question really doesn’t like me or my values. As a result, there are authors that I used to follow pretty closely that I now won’t touch their blogs with a ten-meter cattle prod.

  9. Patrick Jones

    I can accept human failings, however when the artist or personality uses their position to expouse their religious, social, or political ideals I tune them out and will not support them further. example the Dixie Chicks and 90% of the liberal Hollywood types.

  10. Chris S

    Scott, good decision not to investigate Lost Prophets; I’ll say no more than that.

    I grew up in the 70s in the UK and so much of what I held dear then, and was formative in my life, has been ruined. I don’t know if the US media has discussed Operation Yewtree much, but many high profile UK entertainers from the 70s/80s have been investigated regarding (and some have been convicted of) sexual abuse of minors. Many things I enjoyed as a young teen, I now look back on with the sadness that comes from tarnished memories.

    For me particularly I was big into the glam-rock thing at the time. In the UK Gary Glitter (Paul Gadd) was one of the biggest names around; however at the same time he was creating the music I loved so much, he was perpetrating horrific offences on under-age females. Now his music is forever ruined for me, I just cannot separate the music from the man and his crimes.

    As for Jimmy Savile…

  11. Janis Schubert

    Very interesting discussion! I was a Mel Gibson fan from way back and really enjoyed his films, but was very disturbed when I learned of his views concerning Jewish people. Then when news came out about his threats to the mother of his child, I just decided that this was someone that I could not support by watching his films. I think you hit it on the head, Scott, when you said that the knowledge of the actor’s views interferes with the ability to suspend disbelief. Although we know that actors are not actually the same people as the parts they play, when an actor plays similar roles in a number of films, in a way we may think that they somewhat embody the characteristics of those roles. Evidence to the contrary produces that cognitive dissonance that just ruins the experience of the movie.
    In your discussion, you both talked about when artists/athletes/celebrities have paid their legal price for their transgressions and then try to make amends and go back to work. What about situations where legal consequences are no longer a possibility? I am thinking of the Cosby situation. Do you pass judgement on someone in the court of public opinion? Give them the benefit of the doubt? Avoid the issue? I find this particularly difficult because it seems that there have long been issues hidden from the public by the Hollywood establishment that many people would be uncomfortable with. I hate the idea of judging someone based on innuendo. But I can’t help but think about all the accusations when I see Cosby’s face on TV. Just wondering what you think about this.

    1. A Sigler

      It’s a great question. I personally do ‘pass judgement’ for Bill Cosby based on the number of accounts that are similar as well as his history of pay-offs over the years for situations just like the ones being reported. That said, I don’t think that simply because the statute of limitations is past that all the accounts are nothing but innuendo.

      At the end of the day though, as an entertainer, Cosby’s largely irrelevant to me. I enjoyed and remember his stand up and such, but it doesn’t weigh heavily in my day-to-day entertainment expenditure.

    2. Marc Ludena

      My 10 year old son is a fan of Bill Cosby. I recently had to have very difficult conversation because there was a new story every day. I really hated Cosby at that moment.

  12. Gianni

    Excellent discussion. I love these long conversations, and moreover, I think it’s safe to say that if you want to tell me a story in my cabin I will always happily take a break from tilling my field. Or whatever it is I do.
    That said, I think separating art and artist is not just possible but a valuable skill. For me this was never difficult, so to a certain extent I may not even be able to appreciate what the problem is. Nevertheless from stories you and other commenters relate not separating art and artist seems only to have had negative outcomes for you; things that without context brought you joy now seem tainted. From what you, Scott, say about preferring ignorance about Lostprohets it appears like I don’t need to convince you that it’d be nice not to have art ruined for you if the artist turns out to be a horrible person.
    I can give many examples. Metallica is a decent one, (not only because all but a few albums of my 30k songs music collection are torrented,) but I think I can do much better. I thoroughly enjoy Norwegian black metal. Emperor’s “In the Nightside Eclipse” is a fantastic album I regularly listen to, despite the drums on it being played by a murderer. And murder is probably worse than being a dick to your fans.
    Varg Vikernes (Burzum) is not just a murderer but also a fascist anti-semite, thinly veiled in neo-paganism. I listen to his music without a second thought as to whether I should, and especially without a second thought as to whether I should enjoy it. While we’re dwelling on extremes, what about Leni Riefenstahl’s films? Not the post-1945 ones no, Triumph des Willens. It’s a nazi propaganda film, and fascism is incontrovertibly reprehensible. My personal ideology is uncompromisingly anti-totalitarian, yet the film is powerful and aesthetic, and I can enjoy watching it. However, now we’re not just separating artist and art but aesthetics and content, and that’s a related but broader topic – perhaps for a future FridayFix. Varg Vikernes’ music usually doesn’t have plainly fascistic content (especially his instrumental albums are probably innocent), so he’s a better example.
    Context can, in some cases, enhance art, but I don’t think it shouldn’t make or break it. To give an example of the converse of all this “tainting” business, I probably agree with most of Sylvie Blocher’s politics, (sorry if that example is a little obscure, she’s on my mind because I recently saw an exhibition of her work,) but I don’t enjoy her art. Not at all. I think you will probably be able to think of an artist whose person you empathise with without enjoying her or his art. Doesn’t this mean you’re able to, at least selectively, separate art and artist?
    Anyway, I’m just putting a dissenting opinion out there in hopes of spurring discussion. If someone’s art, especially music, has been tainted for you because of the artist I urge you to attempt to overlook it and enjoy the art all the same, simply because a lot of art that could easily be seen as “tainted by the artist” brings me much joy. Maybe imagine the artist lived a few hundred years ago so that you can more easily dismiss and ignore his or her opinion; if the art is really good it may transcend time so that this will be true some time anyway.

    p.s. Ride the Lightening >> Master of Puppets

    1. A Sigler

      It’s a varied topic for sure. I like your point about it being context, content, art and artist related.

      I tried to look up the details, but I’m a little unclear if the murder (or more likely, the murder conviction) came before or after the creation of the album you mention. And I (of course) don’t know if you heard the album before or after you knew about the murder. I think for me this probably influences my choice to listen, but assuming the album and my love for it came first, I don’t know what I’d do.

  13. dedsysop

    Orson scott card has some ideas which I find repugnant, but many of the books in the enders series are along my all time favorite. I’m probably stl going to read his books but it does taint them slightly..

    1. A Sigler

      Yeah, OSC is a great example here. I like the enders series too, but am happy to let them go and read different stuff in the future. But here’s the rub: while I liked Enders Game … I didn’t love it like I loved Piers Anthony’s books. IF I had, would it be so easy to let go? I don’t know.

      1. scottsigler

        @ARealGirl: I loved ENDER’S GAME as one of those “what an amazing concept” stories that no one had thought of yet. I haven’t revisited it yet, but I did see the movie despite people urging a boycott. That movie had been in the works in one form or another for a long, long time, and I wanted to see how they pulled it off.

  14. Julie Mars

    This is the age-old story of shunning and redemption and it goes through all of human society not just artists and athletes. I tend to be intolerant of the intolerant, (hmm) for example, I still can’t eat at Chick Filet due to the owner’s views about homosexuality. I’m also intolerant of those intolerant to climate change. (There’s a catch 22 in there somewhere.)

    It’s the redemption part that makes the Vick story so compelling. We might be better people if we kept that option open to other people we come to loathe.

  15. ratman19

    Interesting topic. I’ve thought about this in the past since and have a clouded opinion. For example, I am a New England Patriots fan. Now, just stating that online usually results in a flurry of criticism from fans around the country. As a diehard Pats fan (and Krakens), I feel a sense of responsibility to defend them throughout the numerous scandals that have become a common occurrence in the last decade. Spygate, Aaron Hernández, numerous allegations and now Deflategate.

    Does these situations change how I feel about the team? To be honest the answer is no. I know the talent that is in that organization and know it was their talent that gave them 4 rings and 8 Super Bowl appearances since 2000. However, I have always cared what other people think and it is disappointing when those who dislike that in which you like have fuel to burn their fire. If this post causes another Junkie (or Sigler himself) to respond with negative comments about the Patriots, it will hurt but it will not change my loyalty.

    Maybe this was all a bad example though since I firmly believe the allegations surrounding the Patriots were minor situations practices throughout the league (I’m sure that comment alone could create hostility).

    1. A Sigler

      Not a bad example, perhaps, but an interesting divergence. You are defending the Patriots, but (and I’m assuming here) not Aaron Hernandez. What if the Pats had just taken Hernandez off the active roster, but not fired him? As the evidence mounts for his transgressions, does that impact how you see the organization as a whole?

  16. Lucie Le Blanc

    This was an awesome topic.

    My heartbreak came from Marion Zimmer Bradley. I own every single one of her books that have not gone out of print. Her books helped me go through my teenage and young adult years. They shaped who I am today.

    News of the child abuse that happened in her household and the lawsuits regarding those didn’t reach me until years after the fact and her death. She’s an unknown entity where I live, off the media’s radar, and I became a fan of hers by accident.

    Even if I had not been a victim of it myself, child abuse is something I can’t ever forgive. Whether she did it or tolerated it, now it’s all I can think of whenever I look at her books.

    And frankly? I miss reading her books. I’m torn because, damn, they’re a part of me and they shaped most of my values and beliefs. I’d love to be able to pick one and experience again what I used to experience while reading it. But my trust has been betrayed. And I can’t just throw them away, you know?

    1. scottsigler

      Lucie: That is a toughie. Like music and movies (and more), books that we adore become a permanent part of us. The emotional connection is real. It’s powerful. And in your case, at least, the actions of the creator take that part away from you.

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