I always find it interesting to consider the relationship between an artist and their work. I often try to consider art for its own merits, as I also like to give people the benefit of the doubt. Fame is a weird mind flood that leaves a lot of people feeling like they know someone they've never met, and attributing value to that non-existent relationship in an irrational way.
So rather than judging art on the merits of the artist, I find it much more productive and realistic to dig the work for the work's sake. It's a nice idea that I think serves me well and allows me to avoid a part of the mindless fanaticism that the sugar coated mafia of popular culture manipulates for profit. It's a nice idea, but nothing is black and white at the best of times.
This week I read about the musician Daniel Jorgensen pleading guilty to sexual misconduct with a girl under the age of thirteen. I don't know Daniel Jorgensen and the story wouldn't have stood out to me if I hadn't gone on to read that he was part of the band Owl City.
Now, they're not a band I particularly like, and they definitely weren't on my radar. The only reason I know the name Owl City is because an ex-girlfriend liked them and listened to them fairly regularly. All I can remember about the music was a whole lot of auto-tune, but not in a good way. If I remember correctly, it was a band of one dude who made a bunch of music on his own, then gathered some folk for live tours, which is where Jorgensen came in.
In the same article, I went on to read that Jorgensen had been involved in some kind of Tumblr related scandal where someone called him out for being a predator. Apparently Owl City kicked Jorgensen out of the band soon after, because of the allegations. Kudos to them I guess.
Unfortunately though, I now have a permanent distaste in my psyche that will never let Owl City escape the association ever again. Sure it's good to know that they took action and told him to jog on, but being associated with a manipulative sexual predator doesn't wash off so easily.
To bring it back to a band I actually liked and enjoyed at the time, the same thing happened with the lead singer of Lostprophets, Ian Watkins. I owned one of their CDs and quite enjoyed it for what it was. Sure they weren't my favourite band around, but they got a pretty regular rotation on my playlists and I knew their music well.
Today Watkins is serving a 35 year sentence for child sex abuse, including multiple instances of infant abuse. I couldn't smash and throw their CD out fast enough when I read the story. There was no way that I could ever listen to Watkins singing away without relating it to his crimes and the fact he was found guilty and imprisoned for such a long sentence (which basically tells me that it was super serious and proven without a doubt).
I managed to erase Lostprophets from my music collection, which is something I actually spend time enjoying and appreciating. I love having a large music collection that contains a diverse library of bands and genres, so I'm able to find the perfect album to listen to at any given moment. So when I chose to throw out one of my precious CDs, it was serious business.
Although, at the time I had a short internal argument with myself about separating the music from the musician and that just because the artist is a fucking dirtbag, the music is still okay. In an objective and rational world, maybe that would make sense, but I couldn't escape the fact that every time I even think of Lostprophets, I think of the lead singer's crimes. With that in mind I smashed the disc and threw it in the bin, and a small part of me cursed Watkins for being such a skid mark of a human being.
Let's get away from flat out criminals though and turn a bit toward some other wankers who make some pretty great art.
One of my favourite books of all time is Maggie Cassidy by Jack Kerouac, who I will confidently say comes across as a bit of a twat. I love beat writers and have devoured many of their books greedily and happily. They're fantastic writers who shaped contemporary culture and post-war modernism with radical ideas and transcendent culture. It's just a shame that every interview I've seen makes them all come across as a bunch of self-righteous, egotistical, wankers.
For some reason though, it doesn't bother me so much. I still enjoy reading their books and loving their writing, despite thinking these authors really needed to get over themselves. I mean, being an egomaniac is far from being a convicted sexual criminal, but It then makes me wonder what the difference really is. Maybe I think it's okay to act like a dickhead, so long as you're not hurting anyone other than yourself. Do I really care if someone is up their own ass, but ultimately harmless? Perhaps not.
Visual artists aren't any different either, as there are many fantastic artists with egos that cast shadows on the sun. I suppose the difference really is the actions that follow that personality. I think it's reasonable to say that the convicted criminals like Jorgensen and Watkins were egomaniacs who took advantage of their positions of power to abuse and manipulate their fans.
I'm beginning to think that the line can be drawn at actions rather than personality, as it seems to be the deciding factor (at least for me) in being able to separate the work from the artist. After all, intentions count for nothing when actions have consequences.
To finish off this thought on a positive note, the same relationship between an artist and their work can go the other way as well.
I've never really been a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, but due to his reputation, I'm a fan. I had the pleasure of seeing him live not so long ago, and the vibe was fantastic. There's this monolith of a musician on stage who has proven himself beyond any doubt, but he's telling us that we should pay more attention to the band backing him up. The Boss spent more time talking up the brilliant members of his band than crapping on about some single they were about to play and how awesome his own work was.
Similarly, I've always been a big fan of Deftones, because their music is so unique and frankly, amazing. However, I say Chino Moreno interviewed once about a song and what it meant, which he responded to by saying that he knew what it meant when he wrote it and when he sings it, but it means nothing to anyone else. This was like catnip to me, as I hate it when people tell me what a song is "supposed" to mean, as it's always different to my own interpretation. It's frustrating because my personal connection with a piece of music is far more powerful than anything someone else might delineate.
Anyway, this is all to riff on whether or not art should be able to exist without any context attached to the artist who created it. For the most part, I think that it can, and that it does whether we want it to or not. Unless we have a personal relationship with an artist, we'll never really know them and what their intentions are with their art, so all we have are their actions to dig or dismiss.
Sometimes though, when we're a little more invested one way or the other, an artist's actions can overshadow their work for better or worse.
Nothing is black and white so I think it's unreasonable and unfeasible to assume that art can ever be completely removed from the artist. There's that grey area where interpretation and investment come into play that determines how much stock we put in that link. Perhaps we would do well to learn how to disassociate the creator from the creation, but I wouldn't want to risk learning lessons from scumbags like Ian Watkins; simply because I am blissfully ignorant.
It remains an interesting thing to consider from time to time, and a steadfast reminder of always taking fame with a grain of salt. Just because someone has success, doesn't make them a saint, but it doesn't condemn them either. I think the real lesson is that you never know someone until you actually have a personal relationship with them, and even then it's debatable. Blindly accepting art from artists because they are popular or talented, can have some unexpected consequences.
I think the work will always win when its creator sits somewhere within the margins of that spectrum. At one end are the saints and the other holds the fuckwits, and they probably deserve to have an effect on their art for better or worse. It's everyone else in the middle that can be ignored for the sake of a good book, song, or painting that has the potential to change lives.
So kudos to all the artists out there who are happy to let their art speak for themselves. Good on them for not having to smother their creations and for letting them live or die on their own merits. I imagine it's a little like being a parent; you can do your best, but at the end of the day your work has to go out into the world on its own and make a life for itself. The best we can do is get out of the way.