Can We Separate the Artwork from the Artist?

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To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDEdspace and end it with #DoNowArtist

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Do Now

Can you still appreciate a work of art even if you don't like the artist as a person? Should we continue to celebrate art by people who do bad things? Can you separate the art from the artist? Should you?


Artists are people, and sometimes people make bad choices or behave despicably. For example, Picasso was thought to be a womanizer, and Jackson Pollock was known to be abusive due to his struggle with alcoholism.

Throughout history, the debate about whether or not to judge an artist's work by their personal character has had no shortage of fuel. Woody Allen's recently resurfacing controversy around allegations that he sexually abused his daughter have brought this conversation to the forefront again, one that has also been stirred up by pop stars whose bad behavior makes headlines, including Chris Brown and Justin Bieber.

It is difficult to suspend judgement of these artists, knowing that it's nearly impossible for an artist to separate their soul from their work, but should we try, instead, to evaluate the work and the artist separately?


KQED's radio show, Forum, recently addressed this topic, and explores how the controversy surrounding Woody Allen has been reflected in his films. KQED Arts bloggers also weighed in, sharing our opinions and specific examples of artists who have come under fire for controversial behavior. Have a read (and a listen) then let us know what you think. Do you still love Chris Brown's music even though he was accused of abusing Rhianna? Do Justin Bieber's recent run-ins with the law affect how you feel about his work? What about Woody Allen? Are there any songs, films, or other artworks that you loved until you learned more about their creators' misdeeds?


KQED Forum segment Can You Separate Art From the Artist?
Woody Allen's adopted daughter Dylan Farrow recently accused him, in a New York Times op-ed, of sexually abusing her when she was a child. The Academy Award-winning director has denied the charges, but the incident raises an age-old question that's dogged artists ranging from Mozart to Michael Jackson. Should we take an artists' personal conduct into account when we judge their work?

To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDedspace and end it with #DoNowArtist

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

We encourage students to reply to other people's tweets to foster more of a conversation. Also, if students tweet their personal opinions, ask them to support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people's ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets like memes or more extensive blog posts to represent their ideas. Of course, do as you can… and any contribution is most welcomed.

More Resources

KQED Arts post From Woody Allen to J.D. Salinger to R. Kelly: Can You Separate Art from the Artist?
Recent resurfacing of controversy surrounding Woody Allen has made us -- and many others -- consider whether an artist's work can be separated from his or her personal life or public reputation. This subject has long been debated -- from James Brown to Roman Polanski to Michael Jackson. It is difficult to untangle public perception of an artist from the meaning we, as hungry consumers, attach to a singular work of art. But if we have a hard time separating our own relationship and context from a work of art, then doesn't it make sense to consider how that work is inherently influenced by the life experiences of its maker?