Love the Art, Hate the Artist?

Dear Reader,

I sometimes look up authors online after finding myself in love with their latest work. I also read about authors who I feel have the potential to write something that I will love, or be captivated by. Sometimes, as was the case when I first heard about her, I look up authors I can’t believe have written as many quality books in their still-moving career (Joyce Carol Oates). Or authors who have a lot of controversy associated with their names, like Joyce Carol Oates again, or Bret Easton Ellis, or Lionel Shriver, or a number of other authors, really. Or authors who just delve into their characters so completely that I feel a yearning to know if the book was written from personal experience. Or a book by a new author that prompts me to see if another new book is in the works (I can be impatient).

All of these examples, though, are based on the assumption that there is a fascination with the author. And it would be true in most cases. What happens, though, when one isn’t taken by the author? What happens when the author is someone known for profane, intolerable acts, yet writes in a beautiful manner? Does that ruin the book?

This issue seems to be far more prominent now than ever in history, due in no small part to the internet and the role that it plays in so many lives, particularly those in the world of art and entertainment. A well-received author on, say, Twitter could be very helpful to book sales. This seems to be especially true if the writer is a comedian and writes books of comic plots. Readers who invest in their Twitter and love their laugh-out-loud tweets are more likely to take an interest in the author’s work because if they were funny on Twitter, they will probably be funny in their novels (or so the belief goes). And this belief does have its merit. In almost all professions, if you see a sample of someone’s work—a maid’s spotless home, a hairdresser’s nicely cropped hair, an architect’s newly-designed house—you may be more enticed to hire them. And artists who publish their work with a company (as opposed to independently), whether they like it or not, are dependent on getting a positive reaction from audiences if they wish to publish another work.

But what about those who may produce quality work, but just don’t appeal to you in some way? I read a comment recently about how many of the most talented artists are notoriously flawed in their character, but that these flaws should not shadow over the work that they have created. While I found myself agreeing particularly with that last part, I wondered how often it is true. How many times does a poisonous personality control which books you buy/read? If you hear of a very compelling novel or short story collection that has won your attention, but then discover that the author is someone you find offensive, would you/should you still purchase the book? At what point do book sales become a moral issue?

Let me know in the comments.


Jumbled Writer

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6 Responses to Love the Art, Hate the Artist?

  1. You know, I was going to say that I’m comfortable with a terrible person writing a good story. Then, I realized there’s actually a line where I won’t bother with their work. This man is a director, but it’s still the same concept. I can’t stand to watch anything by Michael Moore. I can’t stand his behavior, and can’t sit for more than two minutes without wanting to turn off his films.

    Translated into “authors,” the same principle goes with political personalities like Bill O’Reilly and Shawn Hannity. They’d have to write some epic material before I would even remotely consider reading it. I suppose the underlying message would be the plot needs to be so far removed from the creator that you wouldn’t know it was them, if it wasn’t stated.

    • Yes, this question could be about anyone in the entertainment world. Sometimes, you can just feel their influence too much in their work.

  2. I don’t usually follow a writer’s personal life – I find many of the people I read are private and I really don’t know much about them and really hoped that would be the advantage to writing over acting. And I don’t think I would care if their book was good. I rarely read ‘celebrity’ books. I heard Bill Clinton’s over 700 page book – was boring. So why waste time reading it? Sometimes I can’t understand why a celebrity would write – like your President’s book – when his father abandoned him when he was a baby – why would he write about his father and not his mother who didn’t? But that’s his choice. Overall – it would be the book content, not the author who I will read.

    • It would be nice to exist in a world where only those with “good” personalities could be on the internet. That way, those who write brilliantly but are not “people pleasers”, to say the least, would not hurt their career. Of course, that would dive far too much into censorship. Who can really determine what a “good” personality is versus a “bad” one?

  3. Aren’t we all flawed individuals? The flaws in an individual could be the catalyst what makes that person an writer. The tension between the pluses and the negatives (alcoholism for instance) could provide the background for creativity.

    • I’ve yet to meet someone who wasn’t flawed. Indeed, we all have our reasons for going into the professions that we do. Whether or not writers with diseases have needed those diseases in order to create the works that they did, or if said diseases actually held back the writer’s true potential, is something that continues to fascinate me.

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