Let’s Talk About: Separating the artist from the art

Disclaimer: This post was slightly inspired by my buddy Scott over at Mechanical Anime Reviews who wrote about this same topic. I recommend giving his own post a read as well if you have the time.

Note: This isn’t an attempt to change anyone’s view on the topic, I’m just sharing my thoughts on it.

If there’s any topic that could be considered relevant in the discussion surrounding various forms of entertainment, Anime and Manga included, it would be this idea of whether a work should always be associated with its creator. Particularly if the creator in question has carried out some form of immoral wrongdoing, has been involved in illegal activities or has generally been shown to be a terrible person.

This has become especially relevant in the Anime and Manga community recently, with the shocking reveal that the creator of Rurouni Kenshin, Nobuhiro Watsuki, is a bloody paedophile and was charged with possession of child pornography. Of course he’s been let off easy and his currently ongoing reboot of Kenshin is still being published in spite of his crimes. And this is just one of many similar cases of a famous creator that many of us have looked up to, or who’s works we have enjoyed, being outed as a terrible and immoral person.

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So it goes without saying that in each of these cases, the vast majority of people who were fans of these creators have chosen to no longer associate themselves with their work. They’re unable to separate the art from the crimes of the artist, and I can understand why. If someone were to create a story where the central message was “murder is wrong” and then proceeded to carry out a mass shooting in the real world a decade later, then yeah, you’d probably question the sincerity and validity of the story’s message.

But, as we’ve all established many times before, I’m weird and I have dumb opinions, so I’m going to explain why I actually feel the complete opposite and think that in just about every case, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to separate a creators misdeeds from their body of work. Or to put it more simply: I want to explain why I’m able to do so.

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Let me explain!

Now I can understand that if a creator goes against the message of their work that it can make the work feel hypocritical. After all, how can we as an audience believe in what the Anime, Manga, TV series, song or video game is trying to tell us, if the very person that created it doesn’t truly believe it themselves?

But the way I’ve always seen it is that even if the creator themselves doesn’t necessarily represent the central theme, focus or message of the stories they create, that doesn’t automatically make their work invalid when it comes to portraying whatever it is they’re attempting to portray. Even if that were the case, fiction in general is always open to one’s own interpretation and there are always multiple perspectives as to what a piece of work was trying to accomplish with its story, characters, or whatever else. What one person may get out of a show another may not. And at the end of the day, my interpretation of the story’s message and what I get out of it through watching it is what matters the most to me, whether or not it was the authors intention or otherwise.

Believe it or not, I’m a huge fan of the Crunkcore duo Blood on the Dance Floor, who are not only notable for being popular amongst teenage scene kids (a group of people I don’t fall under I can assure you), but who have also become one of the most negatively viewed acts in modern music due to the immoral behaviour of their lead singer. I’m not entirely sure how true any of these allegations are, but he supposedly treats the other acts they tour with pretty terribly, apparently acts creepy and misogynistic towards females who come into contact with him and has an ego that dwarfs that of the average Anime YouTuber. And all of this behaviour goes against a lot of the positive messages in their lyrics and upbeat, energetic and often silly nature of the music they perform in general.

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Yet, none of the singer’s actions take away from the fact that I still find the music itself fun to listen to. It still puts me in a good mood, makes me laugh and fills me with positivity. Because the message is still there, even if it’s presented by a hypocrite who doesn’t necessarily believe in it themselves.

I can understand that continuing to be a fan of the work could also be interpreted as directly supporting any negative behaviour associated with its creator, and in a lot of ways yeah… That could be said to be true. If you’re buying the Manga of a drug abuser, you’re probably funding their drug habit. So my solution to that is simple: Don’t buy it. Just read it. Or watch it. Or stream it. Or download it. Or whatever. Simply consuming the product isn’t the same as directly purchasing it. Is it immoral? Definitely. But if you’re so hung up on the idea of supporting the artist who’s behaviour you don’t agree with, you probably weren’t going to support them anyway, so why deprive yourself of their work that you enjoy too?

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In short, I think it’s perfectly acceptable, and healthy, to separate the artist from the art, especially in these kinds of situations. Because at the end of the day, Word of God is not the end all be all of a piece of work, and we, as fans of a work or piece of art are perfectly capable of taking what it means to us and how it shapes us as individuals into our own hands. No creator or their actions should have the right to take our connection to their art away from us. At least, that’s how I feel.

But maybe I’m just daft. That’s also pretty likely.

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What do you think of this topic? Are you able to separate the art from the artist? Or do you feel different? Let me know!

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28 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About: Separating the artist from the art

  1. I’m surprised you like BOTDF! I’ve heard about all the accusations as well. You have a very interesting perspective on this topic. I am okay with certain things but not okay with other things. I think it really depends on the thing in question and how it goes with my personal values. If it’s related to children for example, I may feel more protective/defensive and may feel uncomfortable to view the content in the same way. Other things – I’m perfectly fine with separating creator from content.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I do! I’m a big fan of Crunkcore music in general, and I’m actually planning to eventually write a post defending the genre as a whole (since it’s pretty hated by music critics)

      Thank you! I’m glad my perspective could be interesting. I can completely understand why you’d feel that way, and I’d probably feel the same way to be honest if I’d encountered a certain thing I’m sure.

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. A lot of the time I’m unaware of who is behind things I enjoy or anything about them, so realistically I’m more concerned with my response to the product than the person creating it. That said, there are times when a little knowledge does make it emotionally hard to detach your opinion of one from the other. People are more emotively driven than rational and a dislike of the creator regularly leads to a dislike of the creation. Interesting post.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’d have to disagree that a solution is to just read/stream a series. It may be to a much lesser degree than an actual purchase, but the creators still gain revenue and/or other benefits from ads, licensing deals, fan discussion, etc. So while I would love to know what happens to Kenshin and friends, I’m done. Criminals have an absolute right to try to find work and support themselves, but in a creative field like this, there are plenty of other hard-working authors who don’t dabble in significant illegal activity.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. While I can totally understand your perspective (and think it’s valid) I still think it’s a far better solution than directly supporting them monetarily if you still want to engage with the work.

      Of course, you’re also entitled to not engage with the work. That’s up to the individual.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I think it’s okay to separate the art and the artist only if the artist paid for their crimes. If they’re still getting away with it, then it’s hard to actively fund something that they’re a part of.

    It also depends on the level of their crime. LostProphets was incredibly popular back in the day. They even had Justin Timberlake pose for one of their covers and were touring all over. Even if you liked their songs, it’s hard to listen to them knowing that the lead singer was a horrible pedophile and encouraging his groupies to bring their babies so they could have a good time. He’s in jail now, thankfully, but I don’t think I could ever look at that group in the same way. I stopped listening to them before all this happened, but if I didn’t I still wouldn’t be okay pirating their stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I can completely understand where you’re coming from there. As much as I think it’s okay to engage with just about anything, I’d rather they pay for their crimes than don’t (such as in the case with Kenshin where he’s literally just getting slapped with a fine and serving no jail time).

      I forgot all about LostProphets, but damn I remember when that happened. That was creepy. Thankfully the rest of the original band ended up forming a new band with a new name to disassociate themselves with the lead singers creative vision and made music that was basically the same without him. I’m not sure if they’re still around today but… Check ’em out!

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. This is a difficult topic, but you put it really well. I don’t think there’s ever an easy answer to this; it just depends on how much the author’s misdeeds impacts your own enjoyment of the series. I wrote something similar a while back after it came out that the director of MMO Junkie is a Nazi. I usually take the same position as you-that the creation is more than just the creator-but I can understand why a lot of people would be put off if the creator of something they like turned out to be a terrible person.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a very difficult and emotionally charged topic, so I did my best to frame it in a way that wouldn’t offend either side of the debate.

      There really is no universal or simple answer to this, since every situation should honestly be looked at on a case by case basis. Like you said, it mostly depends on how much the authors crimes affect how you feel about the work or in general.

      Interesting post, I’ll give it a look!

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I think for me it depends on how obviously the creator’s beliefs and suchlike are incorporated into the work. If the work just stands by itself and isn’t obviously trying to push a particular political message, then I’m fine with separating art and artist. In many cases, I’m in the same boat as Karandi above; a lot of the time I’m simply not aware of the specific individuals behind various works, at least not unless I look into something in more detail for the purposes of writing an article.

    Creators who have been particularly vocal, high-profile and unpleasant, however… I have a harder time supporting their work in good conscience. I will never play any games by a man named Phil Fish, for example, because he made some extremely unpleasant comments that directly attacked his potential audience and a community that I am part of (Japanese gaming fans) and thus, because he was “the face” of his project Fez, I was disinclined to support him. (Also I didn’t really like the demo, but that’s beside the point.)

    The other issue with judging something based on its creator is that, at times, the creator can be unreasonably smeared by those who disagree with them politically. Most recently, I’ve seen this with the creator of a game called HuniePop, who was one of the first to bring the situation with visual novels and ecchi games on Steam to the public’s attention as well as one of the most vocal people trying to get it sorted out… but there were people out there actively advocating not to support him for ridiculous reasons like the hashtag he used.

    It’s a difficult one, and I think it’s best taken on a case-by-case basis… preferably by informing yourself rather than relying on what might appear to be prevailing public opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I was curious if you knew Sott also wrote about this when I saw this last night, see that you did by the start.

    Like I said to him there, I am also able to separate the art from the artist. What I get out the art really has very little to do with the actual artist most times. I’m sure there are cases where this wouldn’t be the case but is my opinion in general.

    Enjoyed reading and glad to have you back in some official capacity 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, as I said that post kind of inspired the idea for this one and we had a chat about it beforehand.

      I agree with you, naturally. While I definitely think there are probably some cases out there that would affect me, overall most things don’t. I’m sure there’s something that’s even too much for me to continue engaging with a work though.

      Thank you! It’s good to be back!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Quote from Eromanga Sensei “Not Ecchi, but loves to draw Ecchi art” (somewhere along the lines of). Its true that talent and values don’t necessarily overlap and correlate, so when evaluating content (anime-related or other) I tend to keep them separate too. Though, I would be disappointed in the said person if he/she did something morally undesirable. I think that is a natural response..

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Great discussion post leth finally get the time to sit down and read it. I knew the Kenshin author would be brought up. I was disappointed to learn of the charges against him but it didn’t make me love less my love of rurouni kenshin. I still want that series for myself. I’ll be frank there are a lot of creators who have done bad shit. Like that Logan Paul youtuber ughh. I’ve lost respect for kenshins mangaka but not his work. It’s a hard one to answer this discussion. But I’ll still support his work, me not watching or reading kenshin I’ll just be one of many my less contribution won’t have much affect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you found the time to read it.

      Yeah, I completely agree with you. While I no longer view the author in a positive light, I still consider the work to be something I really enjoy regardless of their actions.

      Every creator has some kind of dirt, it’s just a matter of how much dirt they have, and unfortunately some have more than others.

      Still, it’s a very difficult topic with no clear cut answer. The best we can all do is decide for ourselves what is worth continuing to support and what isn’t.

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 2 people

  10. This is a fascinating discussion. Personally, I thought Watsuki got off way too easy for his crimes. I think some people have selective outrage when it comes to demonizing various people. I know I’m going to use some live-action examples instead of anime, but just hear me out. One thing I reviewed not too long ago was The Birth of a Nation [2016] (it’s not related to the original film, BTW) which deals with the Nat Turner rebellion. That film was dragged through the mud because of what the movie’s about and they brought up the fact that director/lead actor Nate Parker was accused of rape over a decade ago. He was found innocent, but they still talked about it and claimed his movie was tainted. However, those same people have never derogated Roman Polanski who confessed to drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl, but he never officially got imprisoned, fled to Europe and still has a career to this day (not to mention winning Oscars after the fact). I can’t stand double standards and I do see the art coinciding with the artists. No one is perfect, but I do have issues when creators do horrible things yet get a free pass.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading. I’m glad I could add to this discussion a little!

      I definitely think that Watsuki got off far too easily for his crimes and that there’s a lot of double standards when it comes to judging people who are responsible for these kind of crimes, like Roman Polanski. The fact that man is still winning Oscars and nobody bats and eyelid is absolutely shocking to me…

      Thanks for reading once again!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome. It was a good discussion.

        I certainly agree that Watsuki got a slap on the wrist. Besides, that fine was a drop in the bucket since the Kenshin franchise alone would’ve made him a millionaire. It really ticks me off with these double standards where criminals get treated better than victims and those falsely accused. About the Polanski issue, there was a petition where people in the film industry (including women) wanted him pardoned. Not surprisingly, one person who signed it was Harvey Weinstein.

        No problem. I’m glad we can have this discussion.

        Liked by 1 person

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