Poll: Should an Artist’s Sins Affect the Reception of Their Art?

Art is sacred, but artists are human. The rich poetry of the Psalms has inspired readers for thousands of years, while being written by an adulterer and a murderer. Filmmakers Woody Allen and Roman Polanski have made masterpieces, while being accused of heinous acts in their personal lives. Bill Cosby made one of the most beloved TV shows of all time, and then allegations sent his legacy into a tailspin. And now we have Nate Parker.¬†Birth of a Nation¬†was destined to become the movie of the year until it was revealed that Parker (the film’s writer, director, and star) was once tried and acquitted for rape.

In this month’s podcast, Jon and Tim reviewed Birth of a Nation and gave their take on the relationship between artists and their art. But those are just two voices in a debate where passionate arguments exist on both sides. For some, the revelations about Parker’s past make his film unwatchable. For others, the two can be separated. We want to hear what you think. Should an artist’s sins affect the reception of their art?

Pick your answer and leave a comment to tell us why.

  • Unequivocally yes. Art is, first and foremost, self-expression of the artist. If we want to understand what the artist is saying, we must view their art within the context of their lives. It’s not the only context, but it is an important one. If the life of the artist doesn’t matter, we might as well generate all art with an algorithm set to maximum aesthetic expression.

    • I agree that the personal life of the artist can help put their work in context. A band I like released a new album recently and they did a podcast on each song explaining what prompted them to write it and how the lyrics evolved. I relate to the album in a much deeper way having heard that series.

      I wonder how this translates on the negative end of the spectrum though. If an artist’s sins are exposed, should we automatically shun their art? Isn’t the only difference between a celebrity’s sins and my sins that one of them is public knowledge? The Gospel puts us all on a level playing field when it comes to sin. If the sins of an artist make their art worthless, then all of our art is worthless.

      At the same time, I can honestly say I’ll never look at The Cosby Show the same again. But is that my own pride and judgment getting in the way? Nothing about that show even remotely crosses paths with Cosby’s scandals. Why can’t we just enjoy the show as is? And yet, I’ll be the first to admit I can’t!

      No wonder the poll is split down the middle right now.

  • Patti Dolan

    When it comes to movies, I feel very neutral about the actor’s life – regardless of what I know about I know about him/her in real time. Acting is just that: they are getting paid to be a part of a story. I may be disappointed or turned off to some facts I am aware or discover about them, but I rarely let the sin affect me. Mostly, because talented or not, famous or not, we are all sinners “falling short of the Gospel of Christ”. I am responsible for whatever I choose to watch, however. If it is AFFECTING ME in ways that go against my spiritual endeavors, then it is wrong for me to continue. For whatever reason, I feel more stringent about television, especially reality celebrity: talk shows, late night comedy, even journalism. i feel more weight about their earning my time to listen and respond. NOT because I am better than, but again I am making a conscious decision to…Story television is more like the movie comments above. I have never been much of a concert-goer, but if I love the “secular” music or magic show, etc., I am neutral about what I know or not because again, I am seeking their entertainment. If it is a Christian who is blatantly in “sin”, but continuing to make albums, or perform live in spiritual realms, then “hate the sin, love the sinner”, but I would like twice about monetarily supporting them. As I write all of this, I am cringing about any replies, but these are my truths. Thank you, Jon, for opening this discussion; we learn from each other.

  • Patti Dolan

    When it comes to movies, I feel very neutral about the actor’s life – regardless of what I know about about him/her in real time. Acting is just that: they are getting paid to be a part of a story. I may be disappointed or turned off to some facts I am aware of, or discover about them, but I rarely let their “sins” affect me. Mostly, because talented or not, famous or not, we are all sinners “falling short of the Gospel of Christ”. I am responsible for whatever I choose to watch, however. If it is AFFECTING ME in ways that go against my spiritual endeavors, then it is wrong for me to continue. For whatever reason, I feel more stringent about television, especially reality celebrity: talk shows, late night comedy, even journalism. i feel more weight about their earning my time to listen and respond. NOT because I am better than, but again I am making a conscious decision to…Story television is more like the movie comments above. I have never been much of a concert-goer, but if I love the “secular” music or magic show, etc., I am neutral about what I know or not because again, I am seeking their entertainment. If it is a Christian who is blatantly in “sin”, but continuing to make albums, or perform live in spiritual realms, then “hate the sin, love the sinner”, but I would like twice about monetarily supporting them, or if I wanted to keep listening. I have been in public positions of performance, and will suffice to say that there was alot of inner conviction, at times, about who I was inside, and who I was presenting. I am grateful to not be in that position now. As I write all of this, I am cringing about any replies, but these are my truths. Thank you, Jon, for opening this discussion; hopefully we listen and learn from each other, in non-judgmental ways.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I definitely see where you’re coming from. There are realms of entertainment that are nearly impossible to separate the art from the artist. Talk shows, journalism, and even music are directly personal modes of communication. But in film, there’s a built in divide. Actors are becoming someone else. The directors are crafting an alternate reality. Traces of the artist’s personal life can seep into the material, but there’s a more intentional desire to create a separate world.