Can You Separate the Work From the Artist?

If you follow me on instagram or twitter, you already know that right now I am tits-deep into researching and writing an academic book on Charles Dickens. He was arguably the most prolific and talented author of the Victorian Era (don’t Wilkie Collins or Thomas Hardy or Brontë at me, there is no comparison, and I love Jude the Obscure.) and Dickens was also a very, very flawed man. A showhound, vaguely anti-semetic, (I say “vaguely” because, as much as I hate it, times were different) manwhore Peter Pan, who nevertheless gave us Pip, Paul Dombey, Scrooge, David Copperfield, Little Nell, Amy Dorrit, Esther Summerson, and on and on and on and on…I have read ALL of Dickens’s novels. I did it in eight months. (not humble brag, regular brag) I am now working tirelessly through all of his short stories, the archives of his speeches, and every personal letter extant. I’ve read four, FOUR of his biographies, and am reading two more as we speak…you get the picture. I’m a living, breathing, Dickens history.

And I can say with all due confidence, if he were alive, I’d probably mock him mercilessly. I’d want to force him to wear louse-ridden pants. I’d yell at him on twitter. (And believe me, if twitter were a thing in the middle of the nineteenth century–he’d be on that like the lice on his crotch from those pants I made him wear.) This is a man who was so burdened by the plight of his childhood that he wrote MILLIONS OF WORDS ABOUT GROWING UP, and he largely ignored his ten children until he found himself some strange he wanted to legally bed, and then he divorced and slandered his first wife, Catherine, and took with him all but one of his children, whom he would continue to ignore.


But–oh how I love his words. I eat, sleep, and breathe them. They are a rich molasses-y comfort in my hand, and steeped in my consciousness. They give me such hope, such drive to write, write, write. Look at all one man accomplished!

Oh wait, different compulsive author.


History is filled with artists we would not approve of in modern times, nor with whom would we ever be friends. Dante also slept around. Hemingway? Picasso? Klimpt? Yes. them. Even Shakespeare is not immune from such harsh approbation though the passage of time.

So why do we celebrate their works and decry modern artists for similar behaviors?

I think the answer is a delicate tiptoe around acknowledging our own hypocrisies. We all know, and can witness how art imitates life. Chopin was a sickly man who felt very close to death through most of his life. His music is often solemn, heart-wrenching. Jane Austen was a free-thinking woman in a time when women were derided for being such. Anyone who looks at any Caravaggio piece, can see why he is often portrayed by history as a violent and terrifying man.

So is Chris Brown.

So is Orson Scott Card.

Mel Gibson.

Dr Dre.

Sean Penn.

Whether they incite violence, mete it out, spew hate speech, or are just assholes in general, we penalize them and ignore their art.

I know I do. I can’t look at Chris Brown without seeing the pictures of Rhianna’s face. I can’t watch Mel Gibson without hearing him disparage Jews. I can’t think about re-reading or watching Ender’s Game without hearing OSC’s hate speech. I won’t contribute to them financially. I won’t pay for their aggression.

I think time from the incident is part of it. I think it’s easier to distance the artist from the artwork after a great span of years and after the sands of the hourglass have abraded the collective memory. There is also the fact that we know we aren’t contributing to their financial status by appreciating their art.

But is it that simple? Do we, the collective “we” give a pass to historical figures because we’re donning the rose-colored glasses of cultural relativism? Is that even a problem after a hundred or more years? Can we look at a piece of art, read a book, hear a melody, and forget who toiled at it when it was long ago, easier than when we have intimate knowledge of the quotidian existence of the artist?

I do think that span of years has a theriac quality to it, providing a scrim between artist and art. There is something to be said for that scrim. If it didn’t blur the misdeeds of men we’d be without artistic tutelage. We’d lose ourselves in remaking without moving forward. Our metaphors would mix, our cerulean and amber would be blue and yellow. We’re not facing the demons of the everyday when we’ve had something on a shelf for what seems like perpetuity. Will any of us get to the point where we can watch The Patriot without a huff of disgust? Probably. Definitely, I think. But not the collective “we.” The collective “them” of the future. The “them” who won’t see his mugshot in their mind when he’s trying to talk to those assembled in a commons house. The “them” who won’t hear the rant at the police officer when he’s mourning his child, his wife, his freedom. I think they will see a masterful performance in Braveheart as just that, a masterful performance. They will be able to acknowledge the art apart from the artist.

I also think that cultural relativism does play a part–at least in modern times. The lines of what is and what is not acceptable are so much more well-drawn today, than in history. *apart from current political charades.* Yes, a jerk is a jerk is a jerk, but time is time is time, and we know that things which were culturally acceptable even twenty or twenty-five years ago (Long Duck Dong, what?) are now considered pretty heinous. We have to accept a certain level of cultural evolution when we make judgements, and we have to press the issue currently so that we may force evolution ever onward. So I won’t buy Chris Brown. He’ll not dip into my wallet. But I will buy Charles Dickens, because, time.

Can we separate the art from the artist? Also NUTELLA FLUFFERNUTTER PIE for pi day. #PIDAY Click To Tweet


Recipe, Please!


And I was feeling…childlike. So I made NUTELLA FLUFFERNUTTER COOKIE PIE.

Yeah, you read that right. It’s a (not toooo sweet) peanut butter cookie crust, stuffed with nutella (I used a vegan nutella available in NYC, but use any. Also vegan marshmallow fluff, but again, use any). And it’s topped with MOAR PEANUT BUTTER COOKIE.

Here’s the thing: you want to make it even easier? Use frozen and thawed pb cookie dough. BUT, it will cost a ton more, and be a lot sweeter. My recipe is best.

FullSizeRender(4) FullSizeRender(2) FullSizeRender Nutella Fluffernutter Cookie Pie

Nutella Fluffernutter Cookie Pie
Save RecipeSave Recipe

What Goes In?

  • +for the cookie+
  • 1 cup creamy natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup earth balance spread--soft or soft SALTED butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs or 6 tbsp aquafabas (if using AF, whir them in a blender until really frothy, first)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup chopped peanuts
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups flour
  • +filling+
  • 1/2 cup nutella
  • 1/2 cup marshmallow cream

Avengers, Assemble!

  1. preheat oven to 375F
  2. cream pb, butter, and sugar in a mixer on high
  3. slow mixer to medium and add eggs and vanilla
  4. turn mixer to slowest speed and add dry ingredients, adding the nuts last
  5. press 1/2 cookie dough to the bottom and sides of a greased 9"pie pan
  6. spread nutella on bottom of crust
  7. spread marshmallow on top of nutella (easiest if you spray spatula with non stick spray, first)
  8. crumble cookie atop
  9. bake for 25 minutes or until golden and delightful.

1 thought on “Can You Separate the Work From the Artist?

talk foodie to me...