Thursday, December 11, 2014

Separating Art from Artist

The Bill Cosby scandal reminded me of a topic that came up in passing at the Chessiecon panel on "Reaching Readers": In this era of all-pervasive social media, readers expect to interact in a quasi-personal way with authors, and revelations about an author's personal life can influence his or her reading audience. Where flaws and sins of creative artists in earlier generations might not have been widely known until after their deaths, nowadays fans will inevitably learn about misbehavior and rumors thereof—and may reject the artist's work on the basis of his or her character.

If you've admired the work of an author, actor, singer, etc. and later learn that the artist has done deplorable things in private life, do you feel the work loses its value? Don't the admirable qualities of the work still exist after the revelation of the creator's sins, just as they did before those sins were made public? Do fans stop watching movies or football games because an actor or athlete has committed reprehensible actions? Some do, of course; many don't.

My personal feeling, after long consideration, is that the value of the work isn't negated by the flaws or sins of the creator. A good book remains a good book even if written by a bad person (or a person known or rumored to have done bad things). Yet I can grok how some people might balk at contributing to the income of a writer whose character and actions they deplore. Does it make a difference if the offender is dead and past being harmed or benefited by boycotts or sales? Does it matter how long the artist has been dead? By all accounts, some classic authors and poets were dreadful people (e.g., Byron). Yet their flawed lives don't keep them out of English lit textbooks.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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