Must we separate art from the artist?

Must we separate art from the artist?
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When I read The Catcher in the Rye for the first time, I was a teenager at war with the world. Obviously, I believed I was the book’s troubled hero – Holden Caulfield. I went on to read everything else that JD Salinger had written. Then, someone casually told me about Joyce Maynard and Salinger’s lifelong pursuit of teenage girls and women who were considerably younger than him. The news of his predatory behaviour hit me like a thunderbolt. My first reaction wasn’t anger or disgust. 

It was betrayal.

How could an artist who’d touched my life so meaningfully be less than perfect? As someone who discovered feminism as part of my growing up – along with the existential angst so characteristic of Salinger’s work – was I allowed to read him anymore? I put away my books, deciding that I could not separate the art from the artist. His writing was forever tainted in my eyes. 

Fast forward to a few years later, and I found myself working as a film critic and entertainment journalist. It was exciting to have access to people whose work I had grown up watching. With film stars, you didn’t have to put them up on a pedestal. They were already up there, and it was difficult to distinguish their on-screen persona and real self because the whole idea of consuming a film and enjoying it depends on your willing suspension of disbelief. That is, you have to allow yourself to believe that the characters you’re watching are real people and that this is a story that is actually happening to them. 

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