Is art separate from the artist?

The question has risen again with “Hogwarts: Legacy.”

I’ve butted heads with friends in the past over whether or not it is okay to enjoy a work of art if I think the artist is a “bad person.” Of course, that’s subjective. Ultimately, my own perception of an artist is going to be different from someone else’s. The question is, which side is right? Is it even possible to answer that question?

This has come to my mind again recently with the release of “Hogwarts: Legacy.”. J.K. Rowling, a known transphobe, is responsible for a setting that, for many, inspires feelings of warmth and nostalgia, and I completely understand why. Even so, I will not engage with any media she plays a part in producing, because in my mind, that’s an endorsement of her views. A friend disagreed with my view because they felt that Rowling’s world was an important part of their childhood and that it was still possible to enjoy her work in a vacuum. The thing is, can anyone say that that’s wrong?

I’ve felt the same apprehension about many other artists. I think that Kanye West is a genuinely good musician, but his words and actions even before recent controversies make it difficult to justify associating with his work. Guns N’ Roses is a band I used to enjoy years ago before I allowed myself to acknowledge how degrading to women their music is. In this particular case, I completely understand why someone wouldn’t want to stop consuming a certain artist’s work. I loved their album “Appetite for Destruction” for the sound of the instrumentals, and I thought that their other work was decent enough for the most part. Back then, attachment stopped me from making what is — in my mind — a moral choice (it also dawned on me that their music wasn’t that good anyway).

To be clear, I don’t think that people who continue to consume the works of controversial people are “bad” people by proxy. I completely understand having an attachment to certain art. I can also accept that someone doesn’t have to care about the artist of a work. I would say that, for example, a song is no longer the composer’s as soon as it reaches my ears since what I hear is inevitably shaped by my own biases. A piece of art can become whatever the observer wants it to be.

With all of that said, with the Rowling example in mind, I can’t in good conscience engage with someone whose stances on transgender people are mutually exclusive with them being able to live their lives without worrying for their safety or being denied gender-affirming care. I tried to change my friend’s mind with this as the crux of my argument, perhaps in a misguided attempt to get them on the “right track.” After all, I don’t believe trans rights are a matter of opinion. The fact that my friend would agree with me about this is what makes the core question of this article so difficult to answer.

I want to say that we should just leave each other alone and allow each other to enjoy whatever media we like, but reality is not so simple. Well-known artists have a significant amount of sway over public opinion on political matters, for better or for worse. This includes the peddling of misinformation and harmful views. Do we allow artists to get away with these things by continuing to consume their work?

I don’t think we should ever go so far as to prevent certain works from being published. Art is an essential part of society. Nonetheless, there has to be a way to introduce critical thought, as well as compassion and mutual understanding, into artistic spaces. It’s easier said than done, but we as people need to do better to put ourselves in others’ shoes.

In the meantime, no one should be expected to ignore a person’s wrongdoings if it affects their ability to enjoy their work. Likewise, no one should be forced to stop enjoying those works. It is on artists to do their due diligence to create media that does not marginalize people. If an artist tries to accomplish this and a viewer finds those efforts objectionable, they should take a moment to ask themself why.

Post Author: Alex Estrada