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Separating art from the artist

Artists are often rather eccentric, odd and have warped views of the world in comparison to us common folk. Some would say this is the reason why what they create can be so poignant. However, as brilliant as their views can be, this can also lead them down dark paths. Some of the greatest works of art the human race has ever produced have come from twisted individuals. The haunting and influential short stories of Edgar Allan Poe, a man that shaped horror writings forever, also married his thirteen year-old cousin when he was 27. Pablo Picasso, possibly one of the most influential and innovative painters in history, was also an unrelenting misogynist that mistreated every woman in his life. To give a more recent example: R.Kelly, man that is a legend in R&B, but also has a history of sexual misconduct, particularly with minors. This is only to name a few examples but the list goes on.

To this I ask, is it morally and ethically right to separate the art from the artist? You could argue that the twisted nature of a person is the perfect breeding ground for world shattering art. On the other hand, do we as a society want to excuse and almost encourage horrid behavior for the sake of art that makes us feel? Is the art inextricably linked to the person that made it? And if it is not, should we feel guilty if we still enjoy the art? This is quite the quandary. Thus, I'll give you my answer: "Uhm, yes? Kinda? Maybe? It depends."

It's easy to throw away the productions of some grand artist that you don't care for. I personally would not lose any sleep if all of Picasso's paintings were to disappear one day. The question becomes much harder to answer when it's an artist or a work that is deeply related to you. Take for example the writer and illustrator (mangaka in Japanese) of Runouni Kenshin, Nobuhiro Watsuki. Watsuki wrote and illustrated the manga (Japanese comic) that would eventually be adopted into the show titled in the west as Samurai X. Samurai X would play on Toonami, a late night anime block on Cartoon Network and I would stay up every night that I could to see this style of animation and storytelling that I had never seen before.

From the time I watched my first episode I was gripped to the story. This was the first time I was exposed to mature storytelling with themes such as romance, guilt, war and redemption. Samurai X made me want to seek out more mature stories, more complex characters that had weight to them, that felt like real people. It shaped my taste in storytelling to what it is today. The biggest problem is that Watsuki also went to prison in Japan for possession of child pornography.

In japan, up until June of 2014, the possession of child pornography was legal. However Japanese citizens were given a one year grace period to dispose of all child pornography and failure to do so within that period would lead to prosecution. Watsuki was caught by police in 2017 and was later convicted. His sentence was to pay a fine that amounted to less than $2,000. As much as his actions anger me, I can not deny the impact that his work has had on my life. Thus do I stand up for my own beliefs in what is right and wrong? Or do I selfishly ignore the man that made what is to me a seminal story in my own personal development. This is where it becomes very grey.

To give another example of a hero to many people that I respect, there is one man that I admire his achievements and what he has done in this life but I simply can not ignore the monster that he is. Bill Cosby is a man that is a hero and idol to many black comedians. He paved the way for the Dave Chapelles, the Kevin Harts and the Eddie Murphy's alike. He worked tirelessly with psychologists to ensure that no negative images of black people would be portrayed on The Cosby Show, which was at its height during a very difficult time for race relations in the United States. He helped create a better America for black people. He was also one of the post prolific serial rapists of all time. To someone like Dave Chapelle, who would not be where he is today without Cosby, that must be heartbreaking. Not only for what the women had to endure, but to also see your hero and idol for what he is. A monster.

I also grew up watching the Cosby Show. My mother always enjoyed the show for it's life lessons. She also said that no matter how bad of a person Cosby is, it doesn't make the lessons on the show any less true.

To that I say, separate the art from the artist when you feel it is right to do so. There is a lot of grey area. Nothing is ever purely black and white. The actions of someone do not make their statements or creations any less true. Horrific actions do not cancel out any good that was done. Because we could all use a little good every once in a while no matter where it comes from.

Are there any other examples you can think of? Artists that impacted you but did horrible things? Do you agree with me? Disagree? Feel free to start a discussion.

Until Next time.


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