Whitman Wire

Can you Separate a Creator from their Works? No.

Rina Cakrani, Columnist

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History is full of tales of artists behaving poorly. Composer Richard Wagner was an anti-Semite. Novelist Charles Dickens trashed his wife and secretly shacked up with a teen actress. Painter Michelangelo Cyaravaggio was a murderer. Movie star and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin was investigated by the FBI and banned from the United States in the 1950s, as much for eloping with an 18 year old as for his leftist political views. It is generally hard for anyone to distinguish the artist from the person.

However, this difference should be noted because although an artist might be great and revolutionary for his times through his work, this does not mean that he has been good as a person. Unfortunately, there have been many cases in which an artist has been an abuser in his personal life, but this hasn’t had any negative impact on the appreciation of his work. For instance, we have Eric Gill, one of the most prominent British artists of the twentieth century, who sexually abused his daughter since she was four years old and heavily represented her in his work. And yet, this fact did not have any serious repercussions on his reputation as an artist. It seems like white men always find a way to escape from such situations and still be celebrated.

However, I find it very hard to think of the artist separately from his personal life and admire him solely for his professional work. Artists and writers often find inspiration from their lives and daily experiences, and portray them in their work. Therefore it is obvious that their work cannot be truly separated from the way they are as individuals. For this reason, I cannot accept the work of Eric Gill as phenomenal, since it stems from a sexual abuser, or the work of any other artist that has been horrendous in their personal lives.

Also, when it comes to writers or leaders I can give the same reasoning. If they preach one thing in public and act in another manner in their personal lives, which would contradict their image in the eyes of the people, I cannot think of them in high regards. For example, I will never idolize and appreciate Mahatma Gandhi, who despite initiating the peaceful protest against the British which gave independence to his country, wrote and said many misogynistic things about women. Of course he will still get credit for the benefits he brought to his country, but this doesn’t mean he should be idolized.

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Can you Separate a Creator from their Works? No.