In his blog post called Separating Good Art form Problematic Artists Denis poses the question. “Should we as a society be able to look past terrible acts when the people who committed them have also created wonderful things?” This is a question I’ve been contemplating for a few years now and I’ve gone back and forth, been on both sides of the argument. But now I have finally made up my mind on the position I am taking.
About two years ago I got into a disagreement with a friend who believed that you should separate the beliefs of a person from their achievements at the time I completely disagreed and almost stopped being friends with them over this argument. Needless to say, we never brought this topic up again in fear that we would kill each other over our different views. However, this “conversation” we had made me think more and deeper about why people think its okay to completely disregard the absolutely horrible beliefs of an artist. It’s often really difficult to take off you lense your point of view and put on someone else and Harper Lee puts it best in To Kill A Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.”
So that’s what I did, I tried to put away my strong feelings and I looked at it from his perspective. For a while, I contemplated the idea and even thought maybe it is true maybe good art can stand on its own separate from the misdeeds of its creator. So here’s the thing good art is good art. There is no denying that when you take art out of societal context on their own they can be beautiful. The craft that goes into creating these pieces is undeniable. However, for me, art is more than skin deep. Art, whether it be music, a painting, or a book it is meant to convey a message beyond what it says on the surface. We aren’t supposed to look at music, books or paintings and only take it at face value. Artist, musicians, and authors put there feelings and beliefs into their work in order to display what they believe for all the world to see and for their audience to be compelled to feel the same way. We are meant to look at works in the context in which the creator is putting them in. It would be a disservice to the creator to not look for the hidden metaphors and allegories they embed into their works.
So when we talk about people like H.P. Lovecraft, a man that is well known to be anti-semantic, racist, and sexist, these negative beliefs just can’t be ignored. People like him put their anti-semantic ideas in their works, the include racist commentary in order to compel others to believe the same thing. We can also look at the other side of the spectrum. We can look at people like N.K. Jemisin in her Broken Earth trilogy. Sure you can read her book and ignore the allegories and metaphors that are very present in her books and still enjoy the book. But what adds depth and real meaning in the series is the fact that Jemisin is addressing real-world issues like racism, homophobia, and global warming.
Though I know there are many people who can see beyond bigotry, this is something that I am not capable of doing. I would rather spend my time admiring someone who isn’t problematic and produces amazing works.