Art versus Artist

Roland Barthes is the French essayist who came up with the notion of The Death of the Author in the sixties. It basically means that the art and its creator can and should be separated, and that the art can be appreciated on its own without taking into account the biography and context of the author and their time of writing. This is something I was thinking about as I walked away from The Sunflower Lounge in Birmingham the other night, having met a member of my favourite band who I mistakenly put on a pedestal.

I was excited to see Psychedelic Porn Crumpets (yes, that is really their name). I had followed their progress after stumbling across them during a Spotify search for Psychedelic Witchcraft (another fantastic band). I couldn’t overlook a band with a name encompassing three of my favourite things and once I listened to the first few seconds of Cornflake, their first song on Spotify, I was hooked. These guys rocked harder than most and injected a certain level of weirdness into their anthemic songs which I just couldn’t get enough of.

So, picture the scene. I’m standing in the basement of The Sunflower Lounge, a mere few feet away from a band which had become one of my absolute favourites over the last year or so. The gig was incredible; the crowd was loving it and the mosh pits and headbanging were endlessly fun. The set ended and the band walked through the crowd, chatting to audience members in a down to earth kind of way. I managed to get hold of Jack, the frontman, and told him how much I loved the set. He replied with a comment about how he’d spotted my hair from the stage and loved it, and wanted to buy me a drink.

At this point, I was flattered and amused so I let him buy me a beer. Several drinks later, it was becoming increasingly obvious that this guy was interested in me. Me and my mate, James, got invited to a house party and, despite me having some doubts about the situation, we decided to stick around to see what would happen.

It was about half an hour later when none of the band nor their entourage had made any moves to go to this party, that one of the girls who was staying with the band called Jack out.

“Don’t you have a girlfriend man?” she asked,

“Yeah, but she’s 5,000 miles away!” Jack replied, as if that somehow made it better.

Cheating is one thing, but justifying it to yourself and everyone around you in such blatant terms, without any thought of how you might come across, is something else, rockstar or not.

I was horrified and, after confirming with the girl who called him out (thank you, Jemma. You have really good hair) that this was the case, James and I made to leave. I wasn’t about to help anyone cheat on their girlfriend, even if they were one-quarter of one of my favourite bands.

It’s shocking to me how classically awful and predictable it was. So predictable, in fact, that I didn’t believe it. A lead singer from a rock band cheating on his girlfriend while on tour? Surely we left that kind of misogynistic and generally wankstain-y behaviour in the seventies, where it belongs? Apparently not.

It got me thinking about the separation of artist from art, especially in light of the #MeToo campaign. I still love the music that Psychedelic Porn Crumpets make. The gig itself was incredible, which makes the encounter even more upsetting. The notion of the Death of the Author is a dangerous one to fling around. It allows us to enjoy the art regardless of anything the artist might have been up to. It allows us to ignore this bad behaviour. In this instance, it would allow me to continue listening to Psychedelic Porn Crumpets and forget about what happened to me after the gig. The issue is, I don’t know whether that’s a good thing.

On the one hand, men who do shitty things should be held responsible for their actions. On the other, how many films and how much music do we have to give up if we take into account how many men behind them have turned out to be awful people? It’s a tough debate that I find myself facing every time I open my music library these days. It seems a shame to sacrifice such brilliant art, whether it’s a band, a film, or anything else, but does this stance just enable the same misogynistic behaviour to continue, giving it the excuse that it’s part of the art, or that the art somehow makes it worth it?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. The obvious solution is, of course, for men to stop being awful and taking advantage of women while in positions of power. This is, it seems, easier said than done. (@ Men ™ – please prove me wrong here)

It seems like men might need a bit of help on this front. My advice is to always have a witty comeback up your sleeve if a man is being a dick and needs to be called out on it.

Back at The Sunflower Lounge, as we started to walk away, Jack called after us – “hey, where are you going?” I turned around, dialled my sass levels up to eleven, looked him dead in the eye and said,

“Somewhere else.”

– The Bechdel Bitch.


2 thoughts on “Art versus Artist”

  1. Great post. I really enjoyed the read.
    To give my perspective on your question about the role (and death) of the author (which, I might add, was very concisely and yet appropriately summarised): it’s difficult to define. Some paintings and sculptures I enjoy for their aesthetics and technical brilliance despite the fact that the contexts of production would be deemed “inappropriate” today. I can enjoy the conducting of great classical music by Herbert von Karajan because he is a great talent, despite the fact that he had anti-semite leanings and served under the Nazi party. Detaching the author from the work is essential for me in these cases because, as you say, it’s a shame to sacrifice brilliant art. But, crucially, there seems to be less evidence of the contexts of the author directly influencing the creative work. Conversely, I wouldn’t choose to listen to the music of a neo-nazi band (I’m assuming an example but I bet one exists out there), even if their beats are fire, because their lyrics promote hateful propoganda. Equally, some art depicting overtly racist, sexist, or uncomfortable subject matter that directly reflects the artist I do not choose to look at or analyse, no matter how expertly made it is (I’m thinking of Jackson Pollock and John Bratby).

    TLDR: it’s a case by case thing really.

    1. I totally agree! It’s going to take a while for me to listen to their music again, but I feel like if I didn’t they would win! Case by case for sure.

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