Can we Separate Artist From Art?

Written: 08/01/2018

In a lot of ways this Ramble is an extension of my prior one – about professionalism and author image, communities and so on. I think it’s important enough to warrant its own stand alone Ramble if we focus on a slightly different point.

Here’s the point; An artist and his/her/their electronic toaster babies’ art, aren’t the same. But they insanely tied together. One impacts the other.

Even trying to write this in a sane way hurts my brain. Like right now, holy crap I’m confused. So, without really devolving into directly personal stuff to me – we’re going to use low hanging fruit of “high level cases” – hell we’re going to outright branch out into other mediums. Because it’s an easy argument to say stand-up comedy is an art form, right?


Louis C.K. has come under fire semi-recently. To the point where nearly anyone he was working with has backed off. Because sexual harassment is toxic to a career – even the illusion of it. Not simply for comedy and actors, but teachers, everyone. To the point where an allegation that’s loud enough will end someone’s job. Though I’m not saying Louis’s case is only an allegation since he admitted being at fault. My point is, again, any whiff of it can tank a career.

Here’s a perfect example of what I mean. The acts he’s admitted to (sexual harassment of the woh damn dude level) – are bad. If I were to, I dunno, hang out in a bar with him and find these things out, I’d be like “seriously? I’m required to go back in time and punch you. Really, it’s better for both of us. Really. Then we can finish this drink and you can finish that story about whatever.”

Now, I don’t want this ramble to turn into a “ugh sexual harassment is bad” long winded circle jerk. I say it because despite all the horror tied to such an event, and the sheer bottom dropping effect it has on Louis C.K.’s career, I still find his stand up (his “art”) funny.

It’s not because of him as a person that I find the bits funny. His pacing. His choice of words. The way he builds up to a story and makes it seem so off-the-cuff are all impressive. But all those bits are the art style. His medium and the brushes of tone by which he paints/describes a scene.

This I get, because when I write, often all I have art words and vaguely clever turns of phrase. Actual results of my own work may vary, but I think that any writer, songwriter, or whatever, can understand the goal of having their work be separate from their day-to-day lives.

There are frantic high brow artist types in their New York lofts (at least according to TV there are some) that may feel differently. I AM MY ART, they may cry. That’s also true, weird right? To the viewer though, the artist is distant from the art.

Time for another high level example. Slim Shady, Marshall Mathers, is a man who speaks his mind on stage, social media, and in song. He catches shit for it on all levels but the beat and tone are impressive regardless of his off stage personality. That being said, there’s very little difference between the two, and that’s a factor worth exploring.

An artist is reflected in their art. 

There’s the real problem. People look at one then the other and sometimes expect them to be radically different. They want a freak on the sheets but a gentleman in the streets. Or whatever. That’s impossible. What we see in artwork is often spawned from the artists lives. We could argue that Louis C.K. has issues in real life based solely on his stand up. There’s a kind of raunchy vibe to his jokes as he walks through his view on the world and tells a story. How could a person who performs in such a manner, on stage, be clearly different in real life?

However, as a viewer, observer, consumer, I don’t put a lot of thought into his home life. In my mind, what matters is the moment they’re acting or performing. I don’t want to look behind the curtain at all. It’s better for everyone if I don’t. Exposing myself to the dirty side of his real life can taint the “art” being performed, for either of our examples.

Let’s say I found out Marshall Mathers punched babies every day for six years. My view on my past enjoyment of his work would turn sour. My teen years would get a black mark because I enjoyed this six-years-of-baby-punching-jerk’s work. It’s weird to think that this would be a betrayal of sorts by the artist who made stuff I liked. That is likely the source of a lot of ire when these people do something wrong.

Their failure as human beings – to the point of being disturbing or whatever term applies – is now stuck to me as a person for having supported their work.

But it’s not simply the artists themselves being so far gone.

The fans encourage the artist by responding to their art.

Here, I’ll use a great example. Once, a lifetime ago, I was in high school and talked to…girls. Not just any girls. Crazy girls who got obsessed over stuff. One, okay three, I knew all had the same general habit. They found a band, they investigated everyone in the band and got to know their lives in a way that makes US Weekly look like slackers.

To them, the art was a way to find an artist that made stuff they liked. They were idols. Not just people crafting material. In a twisted way, it makes sense. However, it also leads to problems. By paying too much attention to the artist, I think we lose focus on the material – since a viewer / listener / reader’s goal is to take in a piece of work and pass time, be entertained, or get SOMETHING out of it.

All this is well and good. Art. Artists. Two different words dammit. Therefore they should be different things.

There’s a link no matter what we do, but that link is only there if we pay too much attention.

Separating the two is almost impossible despite my mental desire to do so.

I often wonder what’s better, to remain ignorant of them as a person and simply judge work as work – or to know that said person has a slant in real life that taints their work.

Terry Goodkind is a writer who does this. His works and some Podcasts where he’s spoken, come off as aloft, high brow, and disdainful of the masses. In one of his books he basically implies all the socialists of his evil fantasy empire would be shipped to earth where they’d forget about magic and life out shitty lives.

I use this example because despite my point above of needing to separate art and artist, we can’t. One created the other with thoughts from their head. Those thoughts tainted, colored, or transformed (whatever word applies depending on how much you like the art) into something different.

Here’s the closer to home example. One writer in my circles, who shall remain nameless because I don’t feel like hearing whining – has shown themselves to have a generally terrible personality when it comes to community control. Not interaction (Different words, different meanings) – but needing to be incontrol of projects tied to it.

This reflects, to an extent, in their work. Which is all over, often has half formed ideas left hanging, and so on – yet I struggle not to let my knowledge of the person’s real life impact my feelings about their novels.

By the same token, I’ve been told that as a writer I must be a sad depressed old man who thinks about killing himself every day and is a whimpering beta. All those words were used by different reviews. Simply because of who Grant is in the story – not because of me as a person. I have rum and video games – there’s not an ounce of depression here. Exhaustion, without a doubt. I did an interview with Ramon over at LitRPG Podcast once that got heavy because I was in the middle of writing Grant’s story – so the artist leaves a tone in the artwork – but the reverse is true.

The art changes the artist. 

Let’s ask a question in reverse, as an exercise in giggles. Using Mister CK (Sorry dude, if you ever read this) – if audiences only responded to his jokes about cats and not his family or anything else, would he change his art to get laughs? Would that change how he acted and what he’d done in the past? By a very real measure, the viewers who respond to art also impact the artist’s mindset.

I could go on and on. The twisted links between observer and subject has been studied by people with big fancy degrees and lots of spare time in their twenties to try and figure out how people tick – but the question that still burns changes a bit as I write this ramble. Now it’s this; should we separate the artist, from the art?

Tacked onto that are more questions. These aren’t meant to be unanswerable or epic – more of a test of each reader here. What stands the test of time, the art, or artist.

  • Is it worth trying?
  • Does having a more visible artist help the art?
  • Does having a less visible artist help?
  • Do people know more about Van Gogh as a person then they do about his artwork?
  • Do we know more about Leonardo Da Vinci’s art, or him as a person?
  • Who painted the Mona Lisa?

It’s interesting to think back on history classes and see which mattered more in the long run. What survived and made its way into stories that are spread. Thinking about all this makes me wonder about my own self image and how that brings light to my writing. Will it even matter? In twenty years the only people who may read these rambles are my kids – and even then it’ll be a fart in a whirlwind – that is to say, it ultimately amounts to nothing.

Anyway, thanks for following this rambling ramble. Here’s a final point – that even if the artist is a [Insert name here] – they can still have awesome things to say. Stuff that needs to be said or no one will really stop to consider how strong it really is.

Image result for useless ck

Stephan out.

One Comment on “Can we Separate Artist From Art?

  1. Pingback: Dec: Patreon changes, new chapters, what’s next | FrustratedEgo Stories

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