hey maggie, do you think people can separate the creator from the art? for example, if someone likes the books an author writes or the movies a director makes, but not the creator themselves, do you think those can be two completely separate things, and that someone can enjoy the art solely on its own? or do you think there is always some aspect of the creator in the creation, and you can't separate the two?
Once upon a time, I read a book that I thought was pretty damn great. I’m not going to tell you the name of the novel, because it’s not really about that. Just know that it was pretty damn great. You may have read it and already found it pretty damn great yourself.
I found out a few years later that I was meant to be on a panel with the author of this novel, and when I told my friends about it, they expressed dismay. The author, they told me, was pretty damn terrible. I’m not going to tell you who it was, because it’s not really about that. Just know that you may have already heard of him and found him pretty damn terrible.
I admit that I didn’t quite believe my friends’ naysaying. I enjoyed the novel so much, and the rumors of his brand of terrible were so specifically opposed to the things that I enjoyed about the novel that I was sure they must be wrong. Certainly this author could not have political and personal views polar opposite to my own: I’d read his novel!
The event arrived. I proceeded to have the worst day of my authorial life. He delivered a speech that left the audience stunned. With increasingly inappropriate verbiage, he tore down the fellow panelists and the authorial profession in general and headed toward women and LGBT folks at a rapid pace. It all escalated until I found myself standing on the table beside him, the better to have the high ground in a conversation that had become morally insane. Schoolchildren blinked at us from the audience.
Later, he told me that if all panels were as spirited, he would participate in more of them. Rumors swirled across the country that I had had it out with said author. I would walk into parties and have people clap me on the shoulder in gratitude, whispering his name in my ear. Even now, thinking of him, my lip curls.
I reread the novel several months after the panel, thinking that it would surely be poisoned by the experience of having met him.
I still loved it. I’m not sure why or how; I’m sure he did his best to invest it with his feelings, as I do with my novels. But in the long run, it didn’t matter. He was him; the book was the book; I couldn’t see his politics or principles when I was reading through the lens of my own.
So to answer your question, yes. I think you can still enjoy a work even if you despise the author. If I could manage to love this novel even having met the author, surely anyone can manage the same trick. Conversely, I think you can also despise a work even if you love the author — sometimes this is a harder truth. I think authors are sometimes successful at conveying their principles in their books, sometimes not, and that can work either for or against you as a reader.
As a consumer, the creators I follow on social media are the ones I like for many reasons, not just for their books. I like the way they think about the act of creation, or I like the way they look at the world, or I like the way they spin a phrase round Twitter. Just loving someone’s books isn’t enough to make me follow them on social media in addition to buying their novels. I’m well aware I’m following a person on Tumblr, for instance, and reading a story in a book. I love it when those two things converge, but they don’t have to, not for me.
I think it’s easier to explain with music: we all know we have songs in our collections that are written by people we’d like to punch in the mouth. For me, it’s a simple solution: buy the song, don’t follow them on Instagram or whatever. I think it’s cool we live in a time of social media splendor, a time when we have the option of knowing if the creators are terrible people: in the olden days, we just had to assume Chaucer was a problematic asshole.
Viva la 2k15.