Gender & Identity, Life

Here’s why you can love the art without loving the artist

There's a reason we say things like, "I know he's kind of a d**k, but man, he's such a good performer!"

When I was a child and one of my beloved TV personalities were found out to be a pervert, a felon, or a perverted felon, my mom and dad would quickly forbid me from watching them any longer.

But now that I have grown older, I can choose exactly what art I consume and how. And that kind of responsibility is a heavy burden.

It’s not always easy to rationalize why I love a song or movie, even though the person who made it is less than perfect, but no one is perfect, including those who play perfection on TV.

Can you really love the art but not the artist? In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental state of holding two opposing or inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes simultaneously. This dissonance is what creates the ability to dismiss our own seemingly hypocritical nature.

[bctt tweet=”This is the psychological phenomenon that lets us ignore our hypocrisy.”]

In this way, we allow ourselves to justify loving one aspect of a person or thing, while dismissing others. In the case of celebrities, we often filter out the “bad” – their behavior in real life – and take the “good” – their art.

Why we hold these inconsistencies is easy to understand – they allow us to enjoy life guilt-free. It lets us say things like “I don’t like her as a person, I like her as an artist,” or “I know he’s kind of a d**k, but man, he’s such a good performer!”

This begs the question, does the art we consume say something about us as an audience? Are we accomplices in the diminishing of the soul when we encourage art that is born from an individual not worthy of our attention? Are we hypocrites? Of course no one is really in a place to judge anyone else when it comes to their actions; but society has certain constructs and rules that no one, not even Steve Jobs or Gandhi, is exempt from.

Society will seemingly forget anything, from the mild pot-smoking, to the more serious adultery, to even abuse, but there is one thing we simply will not stand: being lied to.

What is “good” and what is “bad” are exchangeable terms and depend on each individual. Integrity, however, is universal. Integrity is important, because it speaks not to the actions a person makes, but rather, to the consistency in their actions overall. It does not matter to me what a person does as long as they are up-front about it from the get-go. The trouble and disillusionment comes when there is a lie or a veil pulled over the public’s eyes.

When I heard Charlie Sheen was an addict, I shrugged. “Well, that’s just who he is, I’m not surprised,” I thought. The bad boy image was pretty well always there. And Sheen’s character in real life seemed little different from the one he portrayed on “Two and a Half Men.”

On the other hand, when the public learned that Lance Armstrong was doping or that Bill Cosby might be taking advantage of women, we were hurt, distraught and angry. Their actions were so adverse to the public brand they had been selling to us for years, and we felt taken advantage of. We know that many people do drugs, beat their women and lie, but when these men did it, we felt like it was happening to us. We gave you our love, we sent our kids to your shows and we bought into your brand – how could you?

In all honesty, we have been consuming art by corrupt individuals for hundreds of years. Before the wide-spread use of social media and camera phones, one could simply be a degenerate in peace – not that this is a particularly good thing. The drinking, the public indecency and the multiple families were easily kept under wraps.

The lifestyle of the rich and famous is often one of extremes. Celebrities have always misbehaved, only now, we have more evidence. Is ignorance bliss? Perhaps not, but in the case of cultural consumption, knowledge sure gets in the way of us discovering, purchasing and consuming good art.

It’s interesting how much time has to do with the public’s tendency toward amnesia. We are more likely to forgive lapses in judgement or degenerate behavior if it happened in the past. When enough time is allowed to pass, something occurs, especially after an artist is deceased, where their behavior becomes part of their myth or their legend, like in the case of Kurt Cobain. No one is appalled when we see pictures of Jimi Hendrix or Bob Marley smoking a joint, but if Rihanna or Miley Cyrus do it, they’re being “bad influences.”

Time allows for greater dissonance. We can say “it’s all in the past,” the person and their behavior is dead, and it is only the art that lives on.

[bctt tweet=”Why is Bob Marley a legend for lighting up, but Rihanna is a ‘bad influence’?”]

As censorship decreases and there is less discrepancy between the person on screen, and the person in real life, the scandals will surely seem less scandalous. It is unreasonable for us to really think that an artist can be the same person we see on the stage. Some cultures treat their celebrities like gods, but they’re the furthest thing from gods. They are people.

I’m not saying they are right or wrong in their behavior. I’m simply no longer surprised.

Most art is just a reflection of the world around it, so when you relate to a piece of art, you are relating to the world as a whole, not to a person. Artists hold up a mirror, they reflect the world and have a special power for illuminating truth, but they must have no command of our attention over that. I no longer expect the celebrities whose work I admire to be upstanding individuals in real life, but if they are, it’s a great bonus.

All good art, no matter who or where it comes from, has the same noble intention: to unite. Though you may not appreciate the individual who created the piece, you can surely appreciate what it means to our culture as a whole – and that, in itself, is worthy of our attention.