How Important Is The Artist To Art?

Once an artist makes a piece of art (a book, a painting, a song, a sculpture, a play, etc.), finishes it and puts it out into the world, what role, good or bad, does the artist play in the work?

Can a good person create bad art? Can a bad person create good art?

How important is the artist to art?

Related questions: What is “good” art? Why do we like what we like? Why does music evoke emotion? How does art influence daily life? What are the benefits of fiction?

5 thoughts on “How Important Is The Artist To Art?”

  1. Can a bad person create good art? Yes. However, I think there are more nuanced questions that determine whether the art is something I should consume or not.

    1) How reprehensible is the bad person / good artist?
    2) Is there something to be learned by seeing, hearing, or reading great art from an artist who is terrible person? In other words, is there an extra level of meaning to the art in knowing that it was produced by someone with a significantly checkered past?
    3) Can good come from art produced by a bad person?
    4) Should good art produced by a good person who goes bad later in life be shunned?
    5) What should we do about the art of the repentant artist?
    6) Is there a way to consume the good art without patronizing the bad artist?

    And so on …

    Except in extreme cases, I think, the posed question comes down to your personal values and ethics. Can you find a way to derive positive meaning in art from a person you despise? If so, or possibly despite this, should you still partake in the art?

    I’ll close with a hypothetical example that would leave a deep hole in my heart were it to happen. The songs of U2 have in deep honesty helped shape who I am today. These days, when I need uplift, I might play some “Joshua Tree.” When I want contemplation, I find great meaning in “Achtung Baby” and “Zooropa.” And when I want to feel righteous anger, “War” is often a go to album.

    However, were members of U2 to do something I could not accept or reconcile with my personal values and ethics, I would likely shun purchasing any of their future albums and going to future concerts. But I would very likely continue listening to their past work.

  2. I immediately thought of Roman Polanski. He has made Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, and more recently The Pianist which I have watched. Yet, he’s a rapist. I didn’t pay too much attention to that when I consumed those movies. I would say it did not, at the time, effect my viewing of them. Though perhaps that’s because the film industry also doesn’t make great mention of it and continues to work with him?
    There are other moments in art where the conduct of an artist has definitely influenced my opinion of their work.
    Art is subjective. Perhaps it depends on the circumstances.

  3. Perhaps I am narrow minded. But I can look at a piece of art and never give the creator behind it a second thought.
    Or enjoy the increadable architecture around me and not think of the work put into the awsome talent involved into building it.
    However, when I read a poem, or listen to music, I can feel the emotion or passion of the artist put into their work.
    I can appreciate all these modes of art without knowing anything about the artist or their history. Nor does it matter to me whether I like what I’m enjoying at the time.

  4. Part of the problem, particularly with a living artist, is that appreciation of the art is often seen as approval of what the artist stands for.

    I can understand why it does. If you associate with something, you necessarily are using that thing to help define who you are. I listen to the hip new band, and that says something about me. If I choose between the summer blockbuster movie or the small, indy art house film, that choice is made because of the preferences that I have (or, more cynically, the image I want to project).

    Moreover, if you support a living artist whose views you disagree with, you can argue that you are helping support those views. Your money, whether from a museum show, a concert performance, or a book, can flow from your pocket, through someone else’s hands, and then be used to help fund something you are opposed to.

    But that’s impossible to avoid. No two people will ever agree on everything, so different people will of course feel differently about politics, religion, art, human rights, the environment, and so on.

    You can — and should — give your time and money to help causes that are important to you. But if you only read books, or listen to music, or go to movies made by perfect individuals, then you won’t read any books, or listen to any music, or see any movies. That doesn’t sound like any way to live a fulfilling life.

    The artist may create the art, but it is up to each one of us to interpret or appreciate that art, and that may come in a form the artist didn’t expect or might not even want. That’s unavoidable.

    Each one of us is responsible for ourselves, not for other people. I’m not responsible for what the artist does outside the art that I appreciate, and the artist is not responsible for what I take from the art that he or she has created.

    1. I’ve thought and read about this topic some more, and I have some additional thoughts:

      We as consumers of art often make the (incorrect) assumption that the ability to create art must make an artist a great person. In reality, artists are often very troubled individuals.

      Too easily we make generalizations about the world: an artist who makes something great must be a great person; someone who performs a heroic action must be a hero; a person who does a horrible thing is a monster.

      None of these things are true. We are, each one of us, complicated, unique, interesting beings with good sides and bad, strengths and flaws. Recognizing and internalizing that is a major challenge of life.

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