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Thread: Can you separate the art from the artist?

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    <3 gator's Avatar
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    Can you separate the art from the artist?

    A local museum is doing an exhibit about Leni Riefenstahl. It looks fascinating and I will probably go have a look. I admire a lot of her work. She was a brilliant cinematographer and pioneered many innovative techniques that are now used in modern cinema. That said, I often feel uncomfortable admitting that I like her work because she was a Nazi and through her art laboured to support one of the most evil and abhorrent regimes in modern history. But does that negate the fact that she was highly creative and proficient in her craft? In my mind, no.

    I'm reminded of a conversation I overheard recently about whether one could reconcile Kanye West's obvious talent with the violent and misogynist lyrics in some of his songs. Or any other artist in a similar position, for that matter. Does the artist's political stance or abhorrent values have any bearing on whatever it is they produce? How much does it count for? Is it possible for a work of art to stand on it's own, without reference to the person who created it and whatever values they espouse?

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    It's hard to separate Wagner's music from his racism. But, it is beautiful per se. Ethical complexity.

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    Now we know... Asteroids Champion ACow's Avatar
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    I think problems come from the cognitive dissonance within ourselves. Like when we try to imagine what someone looks like just because we hear their voice, and it inevitably turns out wrong :P

    We see or observe something beautiful or skillful, and we want to try to extend those qualities to our idea of the person and their other faculties, such that they must also reflect our own ideas of beauty, or justice or skill, or whatever it is that we associate with such things.

    I've found what inevitably happens of course is that humans are far more multifaceted and flawed. So you have nazis composing a soliloquy on love, a rapist sculpting something wonderful, or a math genius that is in fact a drug addict. But we want them to be so much more. Our wish for something to come together to form a "coherent virtuous archetypal whole" in a person is romantic, but inevitably unrealistic.

    A similar disillusionment comes when you set up heroes or ideals in your own skilled pursuits as well. You take it far enough and then you realise one day that your hero/dream-guy-girl wasn't in fact some artistic god at all, but made/makes all the same mistakes you do. Its even more jarring if you overtake them one day

    Perhaps its just me, but after doing this game one too many times, you eventually have to accept that artistic work stands apart from the fantastical ideal of the person.

    Now for the more controversial position. Can we go even further and say not only that horrible people/things can create wonderful art, but that for some wonderful art, horrible people/things are necessary?

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    <3 gator's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thevenin View Post
    It's hard to separate Wagner's music from his racism. But, it is beautiful per se. Ethical complexity.
    Perhaps all things of beauty are racist. Reminds me of a conversation I had with ferrus once, about going to great cities like, say, London, Paris or Amsterdam and admiring the art and architecture, much of which was facilitated by the violent subjugation of whole empires of people. I found the opulence of the Vatican very hard to take in for the same reason.

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    Homo siderius Sistamatic's Avatar
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    Perhaps beautiful art made by "evil" people is a reminder that we all have the capacity to do both great and terrible things--a warning that some choices are so bad that they have the potential to cast a shadow over every redeeming that you do.

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    Dr.Awkward Robcore's Avatar
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    It seems that a single flash of brilliance is insufficient to bring about full-on enlightenment...so that the brilliant are also the ignorant ought not to be unsettling.

    I mean, I'm sure I'm ignorant to something(s), and that over the course of my life I'll support things knowingly and unknowingly that might be outright offensive to the better sensibilities of others. I hope that doesn't outshine my worthwhile contributions to humanity.

    I like to think that if people just lived longer, they'd eventually come face to face with their ignorance and change their ways/views...
    ...perhaps the masterpieces of the ignorant are just the early inspirations of the eventually wise?

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    Quote Originally Posted by gator View Post
    I found the opulence of the Vatican very hard to take in for the same reason.
    St. Peter's Cathedral, to me, is ponderous, dark, and depressing. Totally unlike Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, which, if you are lucky enough to be on the upper floor on a sunny day at just the right time, is exquisite. I guess one way to look at it is, beauty stands alone, regardless of provenance. I mean, how much of Van Gough's greatness was a result of his bipolar disorder, which led to his death? Beautiful is beautiful, regardless of who made it happen. Kind of depressing in particular circumstances.

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    it's easier to do if you develop an appreciation for the art before knowing about any character defects. for example Craig Pillard (Incantation, Disma, Methadrone etc.) is/was into nazism. I liked those bands before I knew that and none of that stuff is advancing that agenda so yeah I can separate art from artist.

    the nazis also had pretty strong graphic design/branding. incidental aspects like that can be appreciated without condoning a horrible ideology.
    Last edited by last_caress; 01-19-2014 at 02:05 AM.

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    It's quite a dilemma I don't know how to resolve. It's almost as if you don't want to know anything about the artist, just the art.

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    Tawaci ki a Gnaska ki Osito Polar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ACow View Post
    Now for the more controversial position. Can we go even further and say not only that horrible people/things can create wonderful art, but that for some wonderful art, horrible people/things are necessary?
    Yeah, I've noticed this. I enjoy a great deal of art by people who have lived through some terrible things. I don't know I'd want to call the terrible things "necessary" in an absolute sense but I would readily agree without them those specific works of art would not exist.

    Art by horrible people. Hmm ... I guess I did enjoy The Prince by Machiavelli and some of the writings of the Marquis De Sade. They were people who thought some impressively evil thoughts. But were they in that respect so different from Stephen King or the like? I don't really think so. Hmm. I also enjoyed reading the works of Julius Caesar and Marcus Aurelius. How would you categorize someone like that?

    Murderers, thieves, slavers, war criminals by modern standards. But they're lionized by history and we don't think of them as evil most of the time. And they were literate and skillful writers.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sistamatic View Post
    A warning that some choices are so bad that they have the potential to cast a shadow over every redeeming that you do.
    I know ... really really bad choices. Like MC Hammer's second album.
    "I don't have psychological problems." --Madrigal

    "When you write about shooting Polemarch in the head, that's more like a first-person view, like you're there looking down the sight of the gun." --Utisz

    David Wong, regarding Chicago
    Six centuries ago, the pre-Colombian natives who settled here named this region with a word which in their language means "the Mouth of Shadow". Later, the Iroquois who showed up and inexplicably slaughtered every man, woman and child renamed it "Seriously, Fuck that Place". When French explorer Jacques Marquette passed through the area he marked his map with a drawing of a brownish blob emerging from between the Devil's buttocks.

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