Separating the artist from the art

I was in an interesting Facebook discussion last night. One of my friends was struggling to reconcile love for the works of Edgar Allan Poe with increased evidence that he was a virulent racist.

It occurred to me, as I thought about my response, that this is not unlike being a lifelong student of Thomas Jefferson while acknowledging that he not only owned slaves but fathered children with one of them.

What I’ve come to increasingly understand—not “appreciate,” but understand—is that this whole country is tainted with racism and slavery. It’s like Bob Dylan said: “Seen an arrow on the doorpost / Saying this land’s been condemned / All the way from New Orleans / To Jerusalem.” We are, all of us Americans, complicit in the original sin of America. That doesn’t mean, to me, that you throw out the whole thing; it means that you appreciate the moments of beauty that have managed to poke their heads above the horror all around them.

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