If you’ve worked in an office, you’ve seen the cartoon “Dilbert”. Creator Scott Adam’s take on the reality of office bureaucracy rose in popularity quickly in the internet era as office workers shared cartoons via email, clippings stuck to work refrigerators and obligatory work calendars and posters. The work also launched several books and has made Adams a very wealthy man.
Scott Adams has been on the edge of some controversial statements in the past, but last week he took it over the line in the eyes of many.
“If nearly half of all Blacks are not OK with White people – according to this poll, not according to me, according to this poll – that’s a hate group,” Adams said Wednesday on his YouTube show “Real Coffee with Scott Adams.” He was referencing a Rasmussen Reports poll that showed that 53% of Black Americans agreed with the statement, “It’s OK to be White.”
In response many newspapers around the country stopped carrying Dilbert.
Leaving aside the really terrible elements of what he said, Adams has raised an issue that society has been dealing with a lot this millennia — how to deal with the works of artists who are found to have done or said controversial things. While Bill Cosby, JK Rowlings, and Kanye West sparked this conversation before Scott Adams, the conversation is actually much older than that.
Many people call for artists to be “cancelled” by the general population, leading for boycotts of media an artists. The move in our society towards what is called “Cancel Culture” is in many ways an iteration of Consent Culture, in that people are not obligated to consume any media. Of course in today’s world of modern media, it’s impossible to cancel an artist. Scott Adam’s videos and his cartoons are still available on his website.
And the question arises — should art (in the largest possible definition of the word) ever be censored?
Art has the power to touch and move us in profound ways, and often we are able to appreciate and admire it regardless of the personal beliefs or actions of the artist who created it. However, when an artist has espoused racist or antisemitic ideas, it can be challenging to know how to engage with their work. Is it possible to separate the art from the artist, or should we boycott their work entirely? In this blog post, we will explore this complex issue and offer some guidance on how to deal with the art of an artist who has espoused racist or antisemitic ideas.
One approach to dealing with the art of problematic artists is to separate the art from the artist. This means appreciating the work itself, while acknowledging and condemning the artist’s problematic views. Separating the art from the artist can be a useful strategy because it allows us to engage with the art on its own terms and to find meaning and value in it that may be separate from the artist’s personal beliefs.
One example of an artist whose work has been the subject of debate in this context is T.S. Eliot. Eliot was a major figure in modernist literature and his poetry is widely studied and admired. However, Eliot’s personal views were often problematic, particularly with regard to his views on race and Judaism. For example, in his early poem “Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar,” Eliot makes anti-Semitic references to Jewish characters.
Despite Eliot’s problematic views, many literary scholars continue to study and admire his work. They argue that we can appreciate the technical brilliance of his poetry while condemning his personal views. By separating the art from the artist, we can engage with Eliot’s work in a way that is intellectually honest and that recognizes the complexity of the relationship between an artist and their art.
Another example of a problematic artist is Ezra Pound, a major figure in modernist poetry who also espoused racist and anti-Semitic views. Pound was a vocal supporter of Italian fascism and Nazi Germany, and his writings are often marked by racist and anti-Semitic themes. For example, in his long poem “The Cantos,” Pound includes passages that glorify Mussolini and Hitler and that contain anti-Semitic references.
Pound’s views have made his work controversial, and some critics have called for his work to be boycotted entirely. However, others argue that separating the art from the artist is a more productive approach. They point out that Pound’s poetry is technically innovative and that it has had a significant influence on later poets. By appreciating the art while condemning the artist’s views, we can engage with Pound’s work in a way that is both honest and intellectually rigorous.
In conclusion, dealing with the art of an artist who has espoused racist or anti-Semitic ideas is a complex issue. While it can be tempting to boycott their work entirely, there is also value in separating the art from the artist and engaging with the work on its own terms. By doing so, we can appreciate the technical and artistic merits of the work, and in the case of Dilbert, even humor, while also recognizing and condemning the artist’s problematic views. Ultimately, the decision of how to engage with problematic art is a personal one, but by being aware of the complexities of this issue, we can make more informed choices.