Can you separate the art from the artist?

Most people have some kind of media that speaks to them – video games, movies, music; there are a myriad of mediums that help us understand ourselves better. Not only that, but it serves as this incredible platform to connect with people from around the world. This connection also exists with the creator, and it’s a blessing to find someone who seems to understand us in a way many others don’t.

And then they disappoint us.

There are fewer things more heartbreaking than finding out the artist that you connected with has some, well, questionable opinions. But does that mean we can’t still enjoy what they created?

The artist

Recently, there was a discussion surrounding the issues of the newly released game Hogwarts Legacy and the issues around Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. Specifically, there was concern about giving money to a woman who has been a damaging influence on transgender communities.

The conversations and arguments that came out of this discourse were often very emotional, and people seemed to choose to ignore issues brought up to honour their nostalgia for the Harry Potter universe. Because, really, what did J.K. Rowling even do that was so bad?

When we are not sure about something, the natural thing to do is turn to others for opinions. This is especially true when it comes to things we cannot relate to; like a cisgendered person trying to understand the transgender experience.

And often, we would turn to people we trust. J.K. Rowling is the creator of a universe that many of us grew up with. Harry Potter was the first moment, for many, that we felt we could be more than the bullied or misunderstood kid. And so, naturally, it would be understandable to turn to the person who wrote this story to help us understand more about the world around us.

The main issue is that Rowling has spread rhetoric that is not a fair or accurate representation of the transgender community. 

It is natural in humans to imitate others. And this goes beyond having information that informs our opinions – we are influenced by societal pressure. This pressure can stem from multiple sources; parents, teachers, friends – and those roles in our lives can be fulfilled in many different ways by different people. Many could have seen Rowling as a teacher. Considering her actions as a greatly influential person in the world, it is concerning that she could be seen this way – especially when you look at the trans community at the most basic level of what they are: human beings.

J.K. Rowling has been labelled as a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist), specifically because of her claims that trans women are not real women. But it goes beyond just thinking this; Rowling has made claims that transwomen are dangerous to cis-women in the spaces they share. She has also implied that transwomen are actually men who want to sexually assault other women and should be denied access to spaces for women.

Most recently, she compared the trans movement to the Death Eaters in Harry Potter.

The art

Since I am cisgendered, I spoke to three transgendered people and one non-binary person to try and get an understanding of their side of this discussion. Unsurprisingly, they all said the same thing: It is better to not buy Hogwarts Legacy.

One of the main arguments for buying the game that has come out of the discussion is that there is no ethical consumption under capitalism. Basically what this means is that whatever we do, somewhere down the line, the production of the thing we buy will have affected someone adversely. As a result, us buying that product perpetuates the mistreatment of those people. Often, this is in reference to the food, clothes, and other basic necessities we buy – so why be picky about the products when realistically, we can’t make a difference?

The difference with a game like Hogwarts Legacy, according to my interviewees, is that this is a form of entertainment. Entertainment is not necessary to our basic survival. We don’t have to play games to make it through the year.

But then, what of the enjoyment of life?

Well, there are other games you can play that would cause less harm. There are also other ways you can get hold of Hogwarts Legacy, if you seek to play it, that will not donate more money to a woman who used those resources to impose on a marginalised group of people.

The answer

According to this example, it’s impossible to separate the art from the artist. This is not wholly true.

Take H.P. Lovecraft, who was one of the great literary influences of the 20th century, and a raging racist. At the basic levels of morality, we know that racism is wrong (and water is wet, right?). However, we can still see the influence of Lovecraft, tell stories that come from his lore, and find games that come from these stories.

Here is the difference: Even though Lovecraft injected his beliefs into the stories he told, we are at a stage where it is being reclaimed to tell better stories in the universe. A lot of his work is now under public domain, meaning he doesn’t gain anything from it. Plus, he’s not around anymore.

So, the reclamation of intrinsically immoral storytelling is one way we can separate the art from the artist. It shows us that yes, it is possible, but only in a certain environment.

It remains up to us to make choices so our voices can be heard. The real question, then, is what does your voice say?


Reference List

Interviews were kept anonymous