[Debate] Creation and Creators

Scope of discussion includes perceived merit of created things (artistic, economic, policy) in the context of the perceived merit of their creators. In situations where the creator is accused or believed to have committed a crime or other undesirable action, the discussion does NOT include debate as to whether this is true or not. However, this does not preclude observations based on beliefs about a creator, whether verified or not.

I have long been curious as to whether a creator can be entirely separated from a work. Once creation is finished, does that created thing then stand on its own merits, or must it always be viewed within the context of its creator? If you enjoy a book, and then discover that the author is a terrible person in your eyes, does that lessen your assessment of the book? If so, why?

More broadly, can horrible people create wonderful things? Can a hated politician be applauded for a worthy piece of legislation? Can we laud a work without lauding the creator?

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Header Image Credit: https://www.deviantart.com/pixiecold

This is one I really struggle with. Rosemary’s Baby is my prime example. It is an astonishing film and retains its power however Polanski is abhorrent. It certainly spoils the film for me and I don’t watch it as much as I maybe would although I still recognise it as a high point in horror. The impact of time in all of this fascinated me too. Caravaggio died on the run for murder but his paintings are discussed without that impacting people’s love. Is there a point whereby if your art outlives you a certain extent you as the creator are more removed from it in the public’s eye?

I’m allergic to absolutes, so I feel very strongly that an artist cannot ever be entirely separated from their work.

The thing that had me thinking about that in the first place was part of the book Rising Strong by Brene Brown. She was talking more about self worth, and her point was that if an artist measures their self worth by how well their work is received then they are in big trouble. If their work is not well received and gets a lot of negative criticism, they may end up in a place where they are emotionally crippled and never be able to create art again. Brene then says that if an artist who ties their self worth to their work is extremely well received, that person is in even deeper trouble.

One of my goals in reading and trying to understand Berne’s work is to be able to be brave about creating art. I have previously been under the assumption that my self worth is tied to how well my art might be received. I’m working on changing my perception about that.

Michael Jackson came to my mind when I was thinking about this. I love quite a lot of Michael Jackson’s music. I’ve also watched the Oprah special about the men who MJ violated when they were children. I honestly don’t know where I stand with MJ. I haven’t really tried to enjoy his music since I’d seen that Oprah presentation.

For a less extreme example, I thought about Ben Folds. I love Ben Folds’ music. It would be quicker to tell you his songs that I’m Luke warm on than to tell you the songs that I love. I recently finished reading his memoir, A Dream About Lightning Bugs. Ben seems to have been pretty candid in that book. He didn’t try to spit shine his shortcomings. Neither did he oversell his biggest successes. He presents himself as being very human.

After finishing the book, I realized that I had been equating the person with how much I love his work. I’m embarrassed to say that I had been thinking of Ben as a deity because of how much I love his work. So as I was exploring ways that I could change my deeply held belief that my self worth was directly connected to how well my art might be received, Ben’s story made for a really good example.

I’ve been to more concerts and live performances throughout my life than I can count. About 10 years ago I saw Ben Folds perform at the Anaheim House of Blues when it was in Downtown Disney. It was the best live performance I’d ever experienced.

First, I would separate art from politics.

In politics you almost always need to deal with shifty or outright evil characters. It’s the nature of the beast given politics tends to attract ruthless types. If you can get a win by working with a bad guy then there’s no shame in that. Provided of course you didn’t sacrifice too much of your soul to get that win. It’s the internal battle I’m having right now regarding Biden - am I selling my soul choosing the lesser evil?

Now back to art. I try to have compassion for long dead artists, especially if their ideas and philosophies are in line with what most people believed at the time. I recognize that if I can get my creative career off the ground that one day someone will likely judge me harshly. And it may be for something I thought was mostly harmless like gaming.

If it’s a modern artist who’s repugnant, I may still enjoy their art but I will do so in a way that doesn’t directly benefit them. I’ll listen to their song on Spotify but won’t buy their album, check their book out of the library, etc.

The last thing I’ll say is you shouldn’t punish an entire team for the sins of one person. You see this a lot in video games but also in movies and TV. I still love Skyrim even if Jeremy Soule is a predator. Or I can appreciate Mia Farrow’s performance while hating Polanski.

Great comments, all. jdzappa, I agree that the political stuff is probably too murky to really benefit our discussion here, although I do think it's worth going beyond just art. For example, when I was growing up I owned a couple of Ford pick-ups and later a beaten-up Ford Bronco II. They were great and I've been really excited for the new Ford Bronco vehicles coming out soon, as I think they'll be on the short list of vehicles that will fit my life with two very large dogs in the near future. Today, I discovered that Henry Ford was vociferously anti-Semetic, received Nazi Germany's highest honour for a non-German, and was violently anti-Union. My feelings on today's unions notwithstanding, this is a guy whose name is plastered on the front of vehicles I have enjoyed and I'm considering purchasing again. And, even though there's no way that anyone at the company now was involved in that, it still gives me pause. That's odd, because the guy's long-dead.

In contrast, I have absolutely no concerns about enjoying Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Joss Whedon was a pivotal figure during some fairly formative years for me, and his fall from grace seems to have tarnished a lot of his work in many people's eyes. But it doesn't seem to worry me a bit, and I'm not sure why. Somehow I'm able to completely divorce the person from the work in this case. Similarly, the actions of directors, actors, writers, and others have never had the slightest impact on my enjoyment of media. There's a strange disconnect in my brain for this stuff. I wasn't familiar with the Polanski stuff that bbk1980 mentioned (which shows how much attention I pay) and, while what he did is clearly abhorrent, I have no desire to research which of his films I should be avoiding. And I agree that not punishing a team of creators for the actions or speech of the figurehead is a pretty reasonable position to have.

Rawk's stuff is the interesting inverse of that, in that the quality of the work informs our perception of the creator. I tend to fall into the camp (as above) that the work overall stands alone and succeeds or fails on its own merits. Rawk, I'd very much encourage you to create as much art as you choose, and the only opinion that really matters is your own! I like to write intermittently. I had a few things published because people asked for them, but mostly what I write isn't for public consumption. That's because the joy is very much in the creation, for me. I don't need the money so I'm not writing in the hope of a best-seller (and I have other thoughts about how a commercial mindset negatively impacts art) and I don't much care whether people like what I'm writing. I seem to recall a writer (I don't recall whom) at some point saying "write something you would like to read, instead of what you think other people want to read". I think the same probably goes for art.

Yes and no to all of it, because you can give me one example and I'll lean one way - then give me another and I'll lean a different way.

I prefer to live in a state of tension on many things, because my decisions become more deliberate and my mind becomes more open. If I think the art is more important than the person in one instance and the person is more important than the art in another, that's how it goes. If I am made to reconsider those decisions later on and change my mind, that's how it goes. Consistency for its own sake makes a lot less sense to me.

LouZiffer wrote:

Consistency for its own sake makes a lot less sense to me.

Makes sense. I wonder how much of it is deliberate, though? For me, it's generally not really a conscious choice. However, I know that other people very deliberately make a choice based on their personal values.

You say that you lean one way and then lean another. Do you have any insight as to why you might think art is more important in some cases but not in others?

I think genuine contrition and making amends should count for a lot.

As a teenager I was homophobic. I never stopped to think about what it meant until I found happiness and wondered why it should even matter to me how any person finds their own happiness. I regret what I said and did as a teenager. I have raised my kids in a way that respects other people's beliefs and choices.

In much the same way, I think we should have forgiveness in our hearts for those who truly make amends. I mean, not the ones that make a non-apology when called out; but those who do change and become advocates for goodness should be given a second chance.

I think of James Gunn as a good example of this. Bad things said when younger. Had apologised and made amends by the time it resurfaced. Then lost his Disney work. I don't think it was helpful to continue to drive a point home in such circumstances.

Coldstream wrote:
LouZiffer wrote:

Consistency for its own sake makes a lot less sense to me.

Makes sense. I wonder how much of it is deliberate, though? For me, it's generally not really a conscious choice. However, I know that other people very deliberately make a choice based on their personal values.

You say that you lean one way and then lean another. Do you have any insight as to why you might think art is more important in some cases but not in others?

A big one is the balance between a work and its creator's impact on the world. Jackasses who will themselves pass in ignominy improve the world all the time seemingly by accident. Great people are celebrated along with their work. These people will not be.

I'm in the "well...it depends" camp, plus what was normal in that given time in history.

Could I watch the Cosby Show? Hellz no.
Could I watch Buffy and Angel? Sure. So many good people involved.
Could I watch Dollhouse? I already could not watch Dollhouse, as being seriously rapey, plus...certain lack of acting skills

Have I taught, "Of Mice and Men" and would I teach it again? Definitely. The funny thing is that while Steinbeck seems to have been a misogynist piece of crap, I was able to show my students how much they had internalized sexism and double standards, by how much they called out the racism, ableism, classism, etc. and completely missed that there's only one female character, she never gets her own name ("Curly's wife") and that nobody in the novel questions treating her like crap for visiting men when her husband is not around, given that her husband is a sack of sh*t.

Much like teaching To Kill a Mockingbird, in that in as much as you are meant to cheer for the white people in 1935 Alabama who are not completely racist pieces of crap, you can still place them in their historical contexts as "heroes", while putting them in ours and noticing they still have a long way to go.

I found out about Orson Scott Card after I enjoyed a bunch of his work, and found other bits of his work pretty problematic (and I did eventually read his cultivated following of sycophants website and ran the F away). Would I read them again now, since I still own a copy or two? Yes. Would I buy more of his books? Nopity Nope Nope.

I guess I take things case by case, and sort of crime by crime, and how much of the work is...celebrating the person. Certainly, The Cosby Show celebrates the hell out of him. Blech.

I don't really listen to Michael Jackson, and was already put way off by his bleaching/surgeries/etc., so now I've been, realllllllly put off, without that changing that I'd already avoided him.

So I guess the question is, why would I still watch Buffy and Angel? Mostly because I don't feel like I'm watching Joss Whedon. In the commentaries by other writers/producers they often tell you that the funniest bit was an addition by Whedon, but the whole thing seems pretty team effort, and if he'd died during season 3, I'm guessing the show would have gone on.

Standup comedy is much easier. Lots of it out there, so why would you watch someone who's a giant, freaking NOPE?

Many people seem like they are more willing to make exceptions for the things they like (and less for the things they don't) with regard to who is offending and what they are offending for.

The level of justification we require to counter guilt or to neutralize it reflecting poorly on ourselves should be an indicator on what is driving a particular stance. It would probably be good to try to objectively and critically examine that.

Folks have touched on an important point, which is groups VS individuals. An individual isn't necessarily a reflection of a whole organization unless they're figurehead/CEO, so loathing a whole structure because of a random dude lower in the roster usually doesn't hold up for me, personally. However, if the surrounding team behaves defensively/complicity, then I'm likely to throw the whole thing away as a lost cause.

Authorial roles and intent are key for content creators, and is a personal reflection of their particular voice or view so that can be different in that particular context.

Joss kinda does, for me. So for me, as much as I appreciate Buffy for what it was, I can't not view it without seeing it through yikes-colored glasses. Will I still enjoy it for the place it holds? Absolutely. Is it problematic? Sure!

SO much of it is contextual. Many faves are problematic. Stuff doesn't age well.

Same does not go for everyone. I will enjoy what was, and can respect its place in the cultural zeitgeist, but I'll not likely to actively pursue new content or support future work of someone who gives me the heebie jeebies or is stupidly dangerous and powerful.

Stand up comedy is an interesting aspect to bring up. Would I ever watch a Louis C.K. special? No way. Would I watch a Dave Chapelle special? Yes. And I have recently too. And I think there might be another new one, and I plan to watch that too. I’m not happy with Dave’s transphobic jokes, nor am I impressed by his defense of his words and actions. But he presents his defense in a way that makes me question everything. His comedy has always been and still is loaded with deep social commentary. I still feel slightly icky when I watch him, though.

RawkGWJ wrote:

Stand up comedy is an interesting aspect to bring up. Would I ever watch a Louis C.K. special? No way. Would I watch a Dave Chapelle special? Yes. And I have recently too. And I think there might be another new one, and I plan to watch that too. I’m not happy with Dave’s transphobic jokes, nor am I impressed by his defense of his words and actions. But he presents his defense in a way that makes me question everything. His comedy has always been and still is loaded with deep social commentary. I still feel slightly icky when I watch him, though.

Just as an example, I watched the Comedy Festival last night that was raising funds for COVID. It played it so safe that it was painfully unfunny. I mean Andrew Dice Clay rifting on how he needed to “wash up his act to stay healthy” or wealthy celebrities showing off their mansions on whacky Zoom calls just wasn’t interesting in the least. At a certain point art - especially comedy - should be a bit transgressive. I would have appreciated more gallows humor or at least poking more fun at the rich and powerful.

I disagree with Dave’s stance on LGBT folks but he does have a point that the average White gay or lesbian person isn’t going to be executed while going for a jog.

jdzappa wrote:
RawkGWJ wrote:

But he presents his defense in a way that makes me question everything.

I disagree with Dave’s stance on LGBT folks but he does have a point that the average White gay or lesbian person isn’t going to be executed while going for a jog.

I wanted to clarify that one sentence from my previous post. Dave makes an interesting argument while he defends his transphobic actions, but he has not won me over. Not even a little bit.

Dave’s statement about jogging and execution is simply not accurate. LGBTQ folks have been murdered by way of hate crimes. It’s also an example of comparative suffering which is one of the worst logical fallacies to commit.

Amoebic wrote:

Many people seem like they are more willing to make exceptions for the things they like (and less for the things they don't) with regard to who is offending and what they are offending for.

It’s hard for me to express exactly how much I love Michael Jackson’s music. My love of MJ’s music is immense. I haven’t tried to enjoy his music since seeing the Oprah special about the boys that MJ abused. I’ve been too chicken to explore how that effects the way I feel about his work. The cognitive dissonance that I’m experiencing on that issue breaks my brain.

I should clarify too that I also don’t agree with his beliefs though like you I appreciate some of his other commentary.

Good discussion.

I remember catching a Cosby rerun a year or two back. Couldn't get through it.

Still enjoy A Different World though.

It's weird.

I was a Ryan Adams fan since Whiskeytown, and Heartbreaker is a damn amazing album, plus lots of his other work. He'd had his ups and downs, but he'd managed to re-invent himself multiple times and stay interesting. I even thought his cover of Taylor Swift's 1989 was at least very interesting with a couple great versions of songs. Then it came out that he'd been basically grooming and manipulating young women musicians into being with him, including the utterly phenomenal Phoebe Bridgers, and she wasn't the only one. His ex-wife Mandy Moore had lots to say, and Liz Phair related how he'd basically tried to get into her pants and she said no.

There are a number of very disturbing stories, and, well, Ryan Adams can die in a fire for all I care. I removed every song from playlists, thumbs downed every one I saw, and haven't even touched my old CDs. He vanished for a while, came back and said something vague and rambling, and there's been no effort to address anything, show contrition, make amends, or anything. He has probably a solid half a dozen songs I utterly LOVE, and I just never want to listen to them again, because even the fractions of a cent I send him for streaming of a track means I'm supporting that asshat. Do I miss those songs? Sure, but the thing about music is there's always more of it to love.

Also, he should never be forgiven for contributing to the plague of "white dude picks up acoustic guitar and plays "Wonderwall'." It's a scourge, I tell you.

Michael Jackson, well, at least he's dead, and I mean that in many ways. I don't enjoy his music like I did because it's tinged with a knowledge of what he did, and even more so the knowledge that we all knew what he was doing and kept listening at the time. MJ is like Harvey Weinstein; we all made jokes about it until it became so bad we had to admit it had never been funny in the first place.

Amoebic wrote:

Many people seem like they are more willing to make exceptions for the things they like (and less for the things they don't) with regard to who is offending and what they are offending for.

I think it's got more to do with how much it affected you than how much you like the work or how offended you are by their actions/beliefs. With that in mind, everyone's going to have different thresholds on different creators/creations.

Whedon and Lovecraft greatly affected me, so it's easier for me to enjoy them now because I associate them more with how I felt at that time than the sh*tty things I later learned they were doing. I can't do that with Cosby or Card because they never had much of an impact on me. At the same time, I've seen black writers talk about how despite being disgusted by Cosby's or Michael Jackson's actions, they still enjoy the Cosby show or Jackson's music because it was so important to them growing up.
Since everyone is going to have different thresholds, it's important not to confuse any individual's enjoyment of the creation as condoning the creator. Given how the internet works though, it's probably more important to remember not confuse criticism of a creator with criticism of you if you can still enjoy the creation.

The artist will always instill part of himself / herself in their work. Thus never truly leaving their art behind regardless of what they go on to achieve.

So from my perspective, creative works will be forever haunted by their creator.