Separating Art From Artist



  • It seems clear to me that a lot of people on the other thread would rather not continue discussing the derail, and I appreciate that some people don't like having things they love ruined for them. But at least some people do want to continue discussing it, so here's a new thread. This follows from a discussion on "cancel culture", JK Rowling, Lovecraft etc.

    @Caggles said in Well, this sums up why I RP:

    @GreenFlashlight

    Do you think this separation is more difficult with writing than eg. with music?

    If I enjoy a Wagner symphony, am I tacitly expressing a fondness for fascism? As music is a more abstract form, does it become easier to split artist from art, whereas with writing there are assumptions from the artist which form a baseline for everything written?

    To further muddy it, is this different for fiction vs non-fiction? Does a paper on covalent bonds lose validity if written by a TERF? How about different disciplines? Social sciences vs physics?

    Am interested in the debate - not sure which side I fall on the argument. Keep talking, this interests me.

    I think that when art contains elements of the author's "problematic" intentions, it becomes a significantly more complicated issue regardless of the genre.

    We can't separate the views of a racist from his "scientific" publications on eugenics, nor the views of a sexist from his psychological "research" on female hysteria.

    I personally happen to enjoy Shostakovich in part because his music was so often an underhanded act of political rebellion, and I find beauty in his cheeky notes. I'll admit to not knowing much about Wagner, but if his music can be demonstrated to be a celebration of the Aryan race or whatever, that would probably affect my enjoyment of it.

    Separating Lovecraft's work from his racism is a lie. It's a nice, white (heh) lie, but a total one. He wasn't just a horror writer who happened to be a racist; he was a racist writer who wrote about racism. His works are littered with racist tropes and are entirely about his fears that people of other ethnicities are alien species who would breed with, replace, encroach upon and overwhelm the pure white race. His works furthered a political agenda that continues to represent a serious issue in society today.

    @surreality said in Well, this sums up why I RP:

    @GreenFlashlight When talking about people from the past? Bluntly, it's sometimes necessary, particularly in light of the trend of damning absolutely everyone and their cousin Frank from 1700 for not having had the levels of social enlightenment we have today.

    To be clear, this is a false equivalence. Lovecraft wasn't simply a man of his time; he was bad even for a man of his time, being an American who in the 1930s openly expressed his fondness for Hitler and support for his political regime in Germany.

    Here's a thought exercise: let's pretend for a moment that Lovecraft wasn't a racist, but instead, was black. Do you think he would have enjoyed the same success he continues to enjoy today? I doubt it.

    Do we need to keep crowning old shitty writers with laurels and laying wreaths at their statues to continue their legacy? I don't think so. There are plenty of other good authors and artists out there who are far more deserving.

    I don't judge people who grew up on Lovecraft not knowing all these things about him who enjoy his works and I wouldn't dare take it away from them. I know, though, it's not a name I intend to pass on to future generations. I'd rather they read good ideas.



  • FWIW most of Lovecraft's works are now public domain. What remains is a little gray area such as Chaosium holding a trademark for "Call of Cthulhu" and some other phrases.

    So to my knowledge not only can you reproduce your own HP Lovecraft content unchecked (up to and including releasing and re-selling his pre 1923 work without much fear of legal repercussion), but also the man has been dead since 1937 and is unable to benefit from the sales of derivative cash streams related to his creations.

    Whatever your opinions are of his xenophobic undertones, the majority of his work that is appreciated remains to be about underwater psychic fish people cults, underground madness-inducing blobby polyps, Antarctic bug people, and the like. Most people are unaware, don't care, or simply don't produce his old poetry about race and overt human-level xenophobia.

    My point is that while Lovecraft himself as a person is definitely a topic, Volkwagen delivered 11 million or so vehicles in 2019, and the VW product itself is no longer really associated with its origin during the 3rd Reich anymore than the vast majority of people reading about the Cthulhu mythos to do out of support of Lovecraft's racism.



  • There's a difference in separating the art from the artist, and supporting bigoted art.

    Lovecraft's... initial inspiration over the horror sub-genre bearing his name is not the same as his work. One can enjoy the stories by other authors fitting into the same cosmos without tacitly approving of anything Lovecraft said, thought, or wrote. And his work is laden with his exceptional racism.

    Bigots create art. Where that art isn't displaying their bigotry, I believe that there is more lee-way. If Wagner wrote music about anti-Semitism, that's different. If Rowling wrote works about transphobia, that's different. But one can enjoy Der Ring des Nibelungen or Harry Potter without supporting the views of their respective authors.



  • All that said, cancel culture is extremely dangerous. Especially on Twitter, where a few hundred characters can easily be misinterpreted - and drama propagates faster than explanation or apology. I'm not saying that any of the mentioned authors/artists are right, or not bigots, just that the idea of summarily eradicating a person's work based on speculation is a dangerous undertaking.



  • @Tinuviel said in Separating Art From Artist:

    All that said, cancel culture is extremely dangerous. Especially on Twitter, where a few hundred characters can easily be misinterpreted - and drama propagates faster than explanation or apology. I'm not saying that any of the mentioned authors/artists are right, or not bigots, just that the idea of summarily eradicating a person's work based on speculation is a dangerous undertaking.

    It also gets unfairly applied based on how well-liked the person is at the moment it occurs.

    We've seen people have their career ruined because a stupid tweet made in HS is found (and none of their current behavior showcases them as being that person anymore). But then, for example, we saw James Gunn get initially 'cancelled' due to tweets he'd made years ago... and everyone campaigned for him to be reinstated and commented how unfair it was.

    Which, it was, re: Gunn. But it left a bad taste in my mouth to see some of the same people supporting him being the ones who will rail on someone else who isn't someone they're a big fan of.



  • @Tinuviel I also think this is a lot easier with novels and music than it is film/tv.

    With novels, you can absolutely impact an author if they start spouting white nationalism. The boycott of the book will absolutely hit the intended target. I think back to Pantera when Phil Anselmo was talking a bunch of White Power stuff at his concerts. Dimebag and Vinnie Paul hated that he did this, but again, the core target was 4 guys and as a result the 4 guys got a reputation for one person's (some say 2, Rex) stances acting as a reflection of the whole.

    HOWEVER, then you get to TV/Movies. No one is entirely sure who gets residuals for what, but there are a lot more moving parts. (exception: tour coordinators for bigger bands. Metallica has something like 20 semi-trailers of stuff, roadies, etc.)

    Technically, you can try to boycott/harm Bill Cosby, but in seeking to make him feel an impact you're also potentially impacting the entire cast of the Cosby show. Weinstein/Spacey? You boycott them and it would cover The Usual Suspects, where likely ever single caterer to key grip aren't responsible for their actions any more than Kevin Pollack, Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne...

    I think at the end of the day you're talking about attempts to turn public dislike/cancel culture/etc into reputational attacks that aren't truly a scalpel incising a cancer. The desire to affect the source of the dislike can often grow greater than the logic behind the attack vector.

    Interesting headspace. Lots of gray area and things to think about.



  • @Ghost True, I was keeping rather specifically to 'single artist' productions for ease. I think that work created before an actor/director/producer/whomever was revealed to be a villain is still 'acceptable.' Some people will adamantly not watch it, and that's fine, but 'cancelling' people that still watch does punish those that were involved in the work's creation but aren't to blame.

    Anything created after? If you're going to work with someone demonstrably bigoted (and I'm not talking about a few tweets from a decade ago) or predatory or otherwise anti-social, you deserve to be 'punished' along side them.

    Though I don't want to come across as one of those people, I don't like to condemn without evidence or confession. It's a deeply icky grey area, to which I don't think there are any absolute right answers.



  • @Kestrel said in Separating Art From Artist:

    Here's a thought exercise: let's pretend for a moment that Lovecraft wasn't a racist, but instead, was black. Do you think he would have enjoyed the same success he continues to enjoy today? I doubt it.

    This is not a worthwhile thought exercise, sorry. Any non-white-male author of the time would have had a harder time than a white male author... duh. The same is true, while somewhat less so today. No one has any illusions about that. (Also, pretty sure more people have actually read Maya Angelou than Lovecraft.)

    His 'success' in the modern era isn't even his. It's the derivative works that continue and thrive, and the majority of his 'success' is that other people want to write in that world. He legitimized the fanfic, essentially, and once you view it in that way? Pretty sure there are more derivative works based on Harry Potter or Star Trek than Lovecraft.

    This is another 'let's twist things backward with today's sensibilities', which is the very nonsense people are actively calling very dangerous and problematic.

    No one would be saying, today, "Because he was black, we should not allow his work to be read/etc."

    People are saying that about creators who came from very different times from our own, and it's very common. It is also culturally dangerous on several levels, not the least of which is removing 'this is an example of how the views of the time, which were damaging to people, were echoed in the creative works produced at that time, and you can better understand the hardships people faced by viewing/reading/etc. the work in question'.

    This is happening. It is happening in our modern culture today. As an artist, as someone whose friends are primarily artists, I take major issue with it.



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  • I found this article today and I really appreciated this woman's take on these matters (reading classic works through today's lens).



  • @surreality said in Separating Art From Artist:

    People are saying that about creators who came from very different times from our own, and it's very common. It is also culturally dangerous on several levels, not the least of which is removing 'this is an example of how the views of the time, which were damaging to people, were echoed in the creative works produced at that time, and you can better understand the hardships people faced by viewing/reading/etc. the work in question'.

    I'm just going to be a stickler for this point. I think it's reductive to call Lovecraft's works products of their time. They were not. Even at that time the average American had significantly better sensibilities than did Lovecraft. He was hateful far beyond the norm for his time. He was a literal American Nazi who named his black cat a slur so grotesque I can't type it, who railed against the more progressive, cosmopolitan norms of his time, and caricaturised people of colour in his works as monsters — not even through metaphor at times, he literally described these ordinary human characters as possessed of "sin-spitting faces". He was documented to become filled with rage each time he passed people of colour in the street, and wrote letters decrying the problem of a Jewish stranglehold in New York and endorsing their genocide.

    Were the times very different from our own? Hmm. I'm gonna turn on the news and get back to you on that.



  • @Kestrel said in Separating Art From Artist:

    I think it's reductive to call Lovecraft's works products of their time.

    I think it's reductive to try and boil down the entire sphere of literary criticism to talking about one dude and his shitty stories.



  • @Tinuviel said in Separating Art From Artist:

    @Kestrel said in Separating Art From Artist:

    I think it's reductive to call Lovecraft's works products of their time.

    I think it's reductive to try and boil down the entire sphere of literary criticism to talking about one dude and his shitty stories.

    Not the point. We should hold racists accountable for their racisms and I don't think minimising the occurrences of it has a civil place in a discussion about separating art from artists. You can advocate doing so without denying the issue, which I find disrespectful to victims of racism and antisemitism who were impacted by the influence of people who held such views, both at the time to this and day.



  • @Kestrel said in Separating Art From Artist:

    We should hold racists accountable for their racisms and I don't think minimising the occurrences of it has a civil place in a discussion about separating art from artists.

    Some of the most beloved authors were demonstrably racist. Dr. Seuss comes to mind. Yet there is an undeniable charm in many of his not-racist works.

    He is dead and is mostly known as a successful, inspiring children's author. And I am willing to let people ignore his racist side because that part of him, to me, is more important.

    No matter who said it, a noble spirit embiggens even the smallest person.



  • @Ganymede said in Separating Art From Artist:

    @Kestrel said in Separating Art From Artist:

    We should hold racists accountable for their racisms and I don't think minimising the occurrences of it has a civil place in a discussion about separating art from artists.

    Some of the most beloved authors were demonstrably racist. Dr. Seuss comes to mind. Yet there is an undeniable charm in many of his not-racist works.

    He is dead and is mostly known as a successful, inspiring children's author. And I am willing to let people ignore his racist side because that part of him, to me, is more important.

    No matter who said it, a noble spirit embiggens even the smallest person.

    And I accept this view and think it's valid.

    You can like Dr Seuss, his work was charming.

    But if the topic of Dr Seuss' alleged racism comes up — and this is the first time I'm hearing about it, so I don't know the details — let's just not dismiss it for anything but what it was. No excuses, especially if those excuses so happen to also be demonstrably untrue, and minimise the issue of harm committed.



  • @Kestrel said in Separating Art From Artist:

    @surreality said in Separating Art From Artist:

    People are saying that about creators who came from very different times from our own, and it's very common. It is also culturally dangerous on several levels, not the least of which is removing 'this is an example of how the views of the time, which were damaging to people, were echoed in the creative works produced at that time, and you can better understand the hardships people faced by viewing/reading/etc. the work in question'.

    I'm just going to be a stickler for this point. I think it's reductive to call Lovecraft's works products of their time. They were not.

    I'm talking about the trend on the whole. It is a thing that is absolutely happening, broadly. The image Tinuviel posted is absolutely on point as to one of the reasons it is harmful.

    Even at that time the average American had significantly better sensibilities than did Lovecraft. He was hateful far beyond the norm for his time.

    No one is disputing any of this or saying anything but 'he was terrible'. No one disagrees with any of this. I haven't even seen any fans of his work in this discussion.

    Were the times very different from our own? Hmm. I'm gonna turn on the news and get back to you on that.

    @surreality said in Separating Art From Artist:

    Any non-white-male author of the time would have had a harder time than a white male author... duh. The same is true, while somewhat less so today. No one has any illusions about that.

    (Already pre-emptively covered.)

    I mean, if you want to question the validity of any white male's creative work from any time in history in which white men weren't more likely than anyone else to succeed -- which is the only place the initial thought exercise could be going -- it's time to burn all of the art ever created, and not make any more unless it's because we want kindling.



  • I'll like the art on its own merits, regardless of the beliefs of the creator. I will not, however, give the artist a cent of my money to support them and their offensive beliefs. Orson Scott Card comes to mind and I regret ever buying his books. I'd pirate Ender's Game instead.



  • @TNP said in Separating Art From Artist:

    I'll like the art on its own merits, regardless of the beliefs of the creator. I will not, however, give the artist a cent of my money to support them and their offensive beliefs. Orson Scott Card comes to mind and I regret ever buying his books. I'd pirate Ender's Game instead.

    Piers Anthony is my example in this, but I got all the Incarnations books second-hand at least.



  • @Kestrel said in Separating Art From Artist:

    @Tinuviel said in Separating Art From Artist:

    @Kestrel said in Separating Art From Artist:

    I think it's reductive to call Lovecraft's works products of their time.

    I think it's reductive to try and boil down the entire sphere of literary criticism to talking about one dude and his shitty stories.

    Not the point. We should hold racists accountable for their racisms and I don't think minimising the occurrences of it has a civil place in a discussion about separating art from artists. You can advocate doing so without denying the issue, which I find disrespectful to victims of racism and antisemitism who were impacted by the influence of people who held such views, both at the time to this and day.

    Lovecraft has been dead for over eighty years. Nobody is holding him accountable for anything. And yet, nobody in this conversation is saying anything to diminish his outrageous racism or the unbelievable racism in his work. Lovecraft, frankly, has no place in a "separating art from artist" discussion, because it is impossible to separate his exceptionally racist work from his exceptionally racist self.

    There are two questions one must ask when reviewing the work of a bigot: 1) Is this work expressing, solely in itself, bigotry? 2) Can this work stand on its own, independent of the creator?

    Harry Potter doesn't rely on the oomph of Rowling's name, but "Why Girls Can't Have Penises, by J. K. Rowling" will rely almost entirely on her name's power.


  • Pitcrew

    At the rate we're going, if the Cancel Cartel gets its way, every artist that's ever existed is going to be canceled at some point for breaking some sacred rule they haven't come up with yet. I can't get behind it; this is definitely the product of people with too much time and wifi on their hands.


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