Can You Separate “Art” From “Artist?”

Not too long ago, I wrote about the challenges in raising kids in a #MeToo era.

Photo by Thibault Trillet on Pexels.com

But those waters are not the only choppy seas kids today have to navigate.

Another example is something most of us are wrestling with at some level: How do you separate art from an artist?

The rise of easily-accessible information and social media have given us new visibility into the personal lives, political views, and questionable (or downright criminal) behavior of actors, musicians, and other entertainers – past and present.

Not that long ago, most people knew that Ted Nugent was pretty conservative while Eddie Vedder was quite liberal, and life went on just fine. Most people had heard rumors that, say, Michael Jackson, had some eyebrow-raising relationships with young children and that their favorite actor may not be as wonderful off-camera.

But today, we are inundated with information.

A documentary at the Sundance Film Festival produced by now-adults that claim Jackson abused them made headlines.

A TV series discussing allegations surrounding R. Kelly’s personal life stunned viewers.

Heck, even an infamous Playboy interview from the 1970s with long-since-passed actor John Wayne was trending on Twitter recently as if it was new material.

Actors like Alyssa Milano and James Woods rally opposite sides of the political spectrum on Twitter, while Kanye West has never been afraid to voice his views.

The question we all face is – how negatively do we have to feel about an artist to avoid their art? And how do we guide our kids to address that complex decision? Do we even attempt to shape their perceptions or just let them gravitate to entertainment that they like?

Artists are people and people are flawed. Which can certainly shape our habits – which can sometimes be inconsistent.

I still can’t watch new Mel Gibson movies after his drunken anti-Semetic rant years ago. But if the original Mad Max is on, I probably won’t change the channel.

Chris Benoit was my favorite professional wrestler – but after he killed himself and his wife and son in a murder-suicide, I haven’t been able to re-watch any of his classics.

After recent news about his alleged abusive behavior, I’ve debated whether or note to remove Ryan Adams from my iTunes playlists. I haven’t yet.

Does it matter? If the song or the movie or the album or the show resonates with you, should the personal life of the creators be a consideration on if you continue to consume it or be inspired by it?

Thus, parents, who ostensibly control media consumption habits of their kids, have to make some tough decisions here.

For example, my kindergartner had a recent school assignment to do a short presentation on a famous American. Since five-year-olds don’t know too many famous people’s names, he asked to research one he knows, Michael Jackson. I decided that it wasn’t a good idea, even though we play Jackson’s music in the house and car regularly.

I drew a line between celebrating the music and the artist in this situation, but I don’t feel great about that decision. I’ve second-and-third-guessed it.

How can parents help their kids sort through these situations when we are struggling with them ourselves?

I think it comes down to guiding them to control the things they can: how they act and how they treat other people. Fostering compassion, empathy, kindness, cultural and media literacy – these are hard things to do and there is no road map.

My son is really confused on why I said no to his Michael Jackson presentation. And I don’t blame him. We have regular dance parties – and Thriller is a favorite. I doubt that will change.

One day, maybe 10 years from now, we can have a tough conversation about this. Maybe we’ll have more facts. Maybe we’ll have more perspective. But, thanks to The Best Mom, he’ll be doing his “Famous American” presentation on Jonas Salk, who created the cure for polio and gave it away for the good of public health when he could have sold it.

Which brings us back to the original question – can you separate art from artist?

For me, the answer is, like so many things in life, it’s complicated.

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