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Separating the Artist from their Art
Old 2 days ago
  #1
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syntonica's Avatar
Separating the Artist from their Art

This is a question I've pondered over several lifetimes, apparently.

Richard Wagner was arguably a brilliant composer, but also arguably an awful person. His treatment of women, his anti-Semitism, and his inability to pay any of the loans he received back, e.g. I used to enjoy listening to Wagner, especially the good bits of Lohengrin, and his Siegfried Idyll, but as I got older, I no longer received the same enjoyment from listening, the more I learned about him as a person.

In the visual art world, I can't look at a piece by Jean (Hans) Arp without wondering which piece created by his wife, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, he ripped off. I read an article yonks ago that showed a dozen or so examples of one of her works and then one of his that he created later, usually identical. He was lauded and unless you're Swiss and occasionally look at your money, you've probably never heard of her.

Just two examples of what I consider great artists, terrible human beings. I'm sure y'all can come up with other examples.

Of course, my question: Can you separate the Art from the Artist? Do you feel an artist's personal beliefs and behaviors detract from the art of their creations? Or, can we just enjoy each creation as a thing in itself to be enjoyed (or not) based upon its own intrinsic merit?
Old 2 days ago
  #2
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I guess it depends, no?

I don't have a problem separating Wagner from his music. I mean, he's been dead for like 135+ years or whatever, and I don't hear in the music what made him disagreeable. To me it would be different if it was a now living artist that had despicable views because I then wouldn't want to financially support that person, and I certainly wouldn't want to buy art that relayed despicable messages.

But yeah, of course there are other lines... like I wouldn't go out and buy a Riefenstahl painting or something like that, no matter how nice it was.
Old 2 days ago
  #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mattiasnyc View Post
I guess it depends, no?

I don't have a problem separating Wagner from his music. I mean, he's been dead for like 135+ years or whatever, and I don't hear in the music what made him disagreeable. To me it would be different if it was a now living artist that had despicable views because I then wouldn't want to financially support that person, and I certainly wouldn't want to buy art that relayed despicable messages.

But yeah, of course there are other lines... like I wouldn't go out and buy a Riefenstahl painting or something like that, no matter how nice it was.
An interesting way to look at it and one that probably isn’t too far from my own thinking, but - playing Devil’s Advocate here - why should Riefenstahl be any different to Wagner? Similar politics, both dead now, etc.

Is it that Riefenstahl is more recent? In which case, where do we draw the line? How much time has to pass before the art outweighs the artist?

Is it the quality of the art? But that takes us back to the whole subjective judgement argument that has been done to death in countless threads on here.

I’m not playing silly buggers here, but I am interested in your (and others’) thinking on this. Even if only to help me understand or challenge my own...
Old 2 days ago
  #4
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I think Riefenstahl is a more clear cut case. I've read things where people wrote that Wagner was an anti-semite, but I've never read or heard anything of his that made that clear. I'm not saying he wasn't, but there's a huge difference between someone maybe having been that because someone said so and on the other hand someone making propaganda films for the German national socialist regime.
Old 2 days ago
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mattiasnyc View Post
I guess it depends, no?

I don't have a problem separating Wagner from his music. I mean, he's been dead for like 135+ years or whatever, and I don't hear in the music what made him disagreeable. To me it would be different if it was a now living artist that had despicable views because I then wouldn't want to financially support that person, and I certainly wouldn't want to buy art that relayed despicable messages.

But yeah, of course there are other lines... like I wouldn't go out and buy a Riefenstahl painting or something like that, no matter how nice it was.
I purposely didn't mention any living artists, but there are some that do great music, yet due to their political beliefs, I won't give them a penny. Not even a listen on YouTube.

I've never actually seen even a clip of a film by Riefenstahl, but it's my understanding that she was pretty much the template for art as propaganda, as far as fascism and authoritarianistic socialism go.

What I find most fascinating is that my favorite director of is Tarkovsky, who made some absolutely amazing films while under the thumb of the USSR. I adore Shostakovich for similar reasons. But maybe that's because they didn't necessarily have those beliefs and strained against the boundaries.

So, you think time is the great arbitrator here? That if the Art continues to be enjoyed, despite the life of the Artist, it's okay? I'm not looking for permission here, just other peoples' views.
Old 2 days ago
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by syntonica View Post
I've never actually seen even a clip of a film by Riefenstahl, but it's my understanding that she was pretty much the template for art as propaganda, as far as fascism and authoritarianistic socialism go.
Well, for fascism and authoritarianism yes. Just in general though you could walk through any well equipped European large cathedral and look at all the art. It's not just about the story the art tells but about what it tells people to do as well as think. So I think we had propaganda far before Leni's work, it's just that as long as we agree with it "it isn't really propaganda", if you know what I mean. I think we agree on this.

Quote:
Originally Posted by syntonica View Post
What I find most fascinating is that my favorite director of is Tarkovsky, who made some absolutely amazing films while under the thumb of the USSR. I adore Shostakovich for similar reasons. But maybe that's because they didn't necessarily have those beliefs and strained against the boundaries.
Yeah, I think we have to be a bit careful with this. Not all that lived under a system agreed with it or worked to further it. Surely some did, but some did not.

Quote:
Originally Posted by syntonica View Post
So, you think time is the great arbitrator here? That if the Art continues to be enjoyed, despite the life of the Artist, it's okay? I'm not looking for permission here, just other peoples' views.
I understand.

No, I don't think time is the great arbitrator necessarily, and I wouldn't go as far as saying we can praise or blame those who listen to a particular artist, at least not without further discussion about said art.

As I mentioned in my second post, I think there's a huge difference between people saying someone had a (despicable) view in general, and on the other a person taking practical steps to implement that view.

Let's just say that if I walk into someone's home and they're listening to Der Ring I probably won't be particularly concerned. But if their home is filled with Leni's work I'll probably raise an eyebrow and then maybe try to figure out what their beliefs really are...

... and on that note I'll just say that we currently have far greater worries as far as peddling questionable ideologies goes...
Old 2 days ago
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by adrianww View Post
An interesting way to look at it and one that probably isn’t too far from my own thinking, but - playing Devil’s Advocate here - why should Riefenstahl be any different to Wagner? Similar politics, both dead now, etc.

Is it that Riefenstahl is more recent? In which case, where do we draw the line? How much time has to pass before the art outweighs the artist?

Is it the quality of the art? But that takes us back to the whole subjective judgement argument that has been done to death in countless threads on here.

I’m not playing silly buggers here, but I am interested in your (and others’) thinking on this. Even if only to help me understand or challenge my own...
Those are pretty much my questions.

I just discovered that a certain musical artist has been espousing basically white supremacist views, despite creating music (which is quite good, in my opinion, but that's neither here nor there for this topic) which is very obviously influenced by black artists. Not only is that, in itself, a complete WTF? moment, it just angers me.

Maybe I'm just jealous that some complete asshole has more talent than me?

I think the example of Riefenstahl may be easier to parse since her films were blatantly political for a particularly distasteful philosophy. I struggle with many of the current "leftist" documentaries for similar reasons, but mostly because I find them artless and manipulative. More narcissistic ego projects than anything else.

Maybe I should watch one of her films and see what I think/feel.
Old 2 days ago
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mattiasnyc View Post
Just in general though you could walk through any well equipped European large cathedral and look at all the art.

... and on that note I'll just say that we currently have far greater worries as far as peddling questionable ideologies goes...
Aha! That's something I hadn't considered. I really enjoy religious art, despite my views on Abrahamic religions. Crap. Maybe I'm being a hypocrite when it comes to Wagner. I mean, his opera's don't have anything blatantly questionable, although I think Freud might have had a field day examining them!

Perhaps Wagner's only received a bad rap only because of who liked his Facebook page long after he went on to his great reward.
Old 59 minutes ago
  #9
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You might like this



Stephen Fry is a well-known personality in the UK. He's done comedy, written books about poetry and Greek myths, and is an all-around loveable boffin.

He's also gay and Jewish, and an uneasy fan of Wagner. It's an interesting documentary.
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