Can we separate the artist from their art? Should we?

Andrew (he/him) on October 22, 2019

(In)famous author and programmer John Sonmez (author of Soft Skills and The Complete Software Developer's Career Guide) has said some patently desp... [Read Full]
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Software is an art of ongoing human collaboration. Take Redis. The future of this technology has a lot to do with what Salvatore Sanfilippo thinks and says now and in the future.

So when someone takes a stand or a position, they're telling you what ecosystem you need to be involved in. When I go to Rails Conf, I'm not just there because of the Ruby framework, I'm there because of the people and the culture. It's intertwined.

It's often complicated, but still intertwined.

What's not complicated, in my opinion, is the Sonmez case. Not only was this tirade flagrant and entirely self-inflicted (he didn't misspeak, he was on the attack the whole time), it was on brand and non-surprising.

Have you seen his YouTube channel, featuring such hits as "How to have sex with a woman from work"?

His advice is literally to be their boss or in a position of power over them.

His entire existence is cartoonishly misogynistic.

I think even having this discussion with Sonmez in mind is kind of doing injustice to areas of legitimate grey area.

The fact that Bob Martin is defending Sonmez is mind-boggling.

I've seen situations where the punishment does not fit the crime, or things get unnecessarily dramatic in the Twitterverse, and this is not one of them. No amount of blacklisting or boycotting is enough to get Sonmez out of his role as an influence on software culture.

And culture is the right word here. Sonmez' entire contribution as far as I can tell is cultural. He's not the author of a framework or operating system. He's an author whose trade is software development.

I actually read Sonmez's book "Soft Skills". I don't remember all the details but I recall finding it a useful read. But there are so many alternatives to that book.

Martin's contribution to this debacle is also in keeping with a reputation of being insensitive and asinine.

Social media amplifies the ability for powerful people to cause harm, and without consequences the populous has no recourse.

Anyway, that's my 2 cents.


Yikes. Didn't know about the YouTube channel. This guy is almost cartoonishly misogynistic.

For me, at least, knowing things like this about the author of a book (or a musician or whatever), it's something I think about while reading or otherwise absorbing their work. It's difficult for me to think of the artist as separate from their art.

In fact, it's sometimes difficult for me to enjoy a piece of art (especially visual art like paintings) at all unless I know a bit about the backstory behind the piece, or the author's inspirations for creating it. Knowing that Sonmez was probably thinking about ways of tricking women into sleeping with him while writing Soft Skills would make that book unreadable for me, even if the content of the book itself was useful.

What are your recommended alternatives to Soft Skills? I'd rather promote them than Sonmez's work.


I was pretty ready to say give the guy a break, he had a bad day until reading Ben’s comment. Yeah, pattern...go away, John.


Everything I wanted to say, and then some, with far more brevity than I am capable of. Well said, Ben.


Bravo, you have written poetry of the speech world, enjoy your stay at:
SpeechMastery Towers.


I think this is a decision that has to be made by individual people and companies.

Personally, I don't feel comfortable financially (or socially) supporting someone who treats people this way.

I truly believe that we, as individuals, have the power to shape our planet for the better.

As such, I choose not to support John Sonmez (or others like him) that find pleasure in hurting people that work for social equality.


I think you're right that it's a case-by-case basis sort of thing. And I think people can redeem themselves if they're genuinely sorry and they sincerely apologise and try to fix the damage they've done. But knowing that someone held those kinds of views while creating those works does leave them sort of tainted, regardless of the effort they've put in since then in attempting to better themselves.

It's a complex issue, for sure.


This is a tough and important question! It looks like most people agree that Sonmez's behavior was appalling...but now what?

Art (and science, and probably everything else) is riddled with despicable actions and people. Should we be "cleansing" our parks, libraries, museums, and record collections whenever something terrible is revealed? What message are we sending to the abused if we don't?

So...uh, I don't have any answers but I think it's important that we think about it!


Thanks, Joe. That's sort of my opinion on the matter. Obviously, this guy has said some terrible things. But saying terrible things doesn't -- in and of itself -- make you a terrible person. But a pattern of behaviour, such as Sonmez has shown, suggests that this person will only continue to say and do disgusting things as long as they have the platform to do so. Deplatforming seems to be the only reasonable option in order to prevent future harm, at the very least.

I won't be promoting or reading any of Sonmez's work for the foreseeable future.


// , As far as Libraries, would you have to start with the worst? Deplatform all copies of anything written by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc.?


That's a different issue, because those were very impactful people, historically. We continue to study their works to understand their psyches and the consequences of their actions. John Sonmez is not Stalin.

// , I don't think anybody is saying John Sonmez is Stalin.

At what point does "this is offensive" / "offends me" translate into "this shouldn't be available?"

You're the one who drew a direct line from Sonmez to Stalin, not me.

I'm not arguing for censorship. I'm saying that I'm not comfortable actively amplifying, in a good light, the views and works of someone who has shown themselves to be a less-than-wholesome person in the past. Refusing to advertise != censorship.

If you buy a copy of Mein Kampf, your money isn't going into Hitler's pocket. If you buy a copy of Soft Skills, it is going directly into Sonmez's. You're implying, with your wallet, that you approve of his behaviour.

// , I might be confused, here.

Buying Sonmez's book implies that I approve of his behavior, because it funds him?

If generalized, buying ____'s book implies that I approve of ____'s behavior, because it funds him?

Am I missing something, here?

Please excuse the informal prepositional logic I'm trying to apply here, because it's the way I learned to reason about ideas.

I would say so, yes. Others may disagree with me, of course, including yourself.

Do you not think so?


When you look at the Mona Lisa do you spend much time thinking about the painter? When you use LibreOffice do you think much about the lives, times and ugly personal secrets of the army of developers who coded it? How about the people who designed and built your car? Or the staff of the company that sold you the car?

As Ruby Hamad of the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper in Australia aptly points out, "All heroes have a dark side, no matter what side they're on". Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and his namesake Martin Luther had a dark side. Hey, even Charles Darwin!

Are we going to trash everything these people did because they weren't perfect? Is absolute perfection the standard? If so, then the only person worth listening to is Jesus Christ who not only claimed to teach truth, but also claimed to embody it.

I often pray to God asking for help and inspiration in my work. However, I don't look in the Bible for information on C#, JavaScript and the history of programming languages. For that I'm going to have to rely on human beings, flaws and all.

P.S. In my little backwater, the name John Sonmez was unknown until I read the article leading to this comment.


Too personal maybe?

Nobody's irreplaceable so if you don't feel comfortable supporting someone, look elsewhere. However that's your personal choice.

An example I can relate to is music. Many of the musicians I listen to could be terrible people, church arsonists etc but that makes no difference to the purpose of entertainment.

Some level of abstraction is inherent otherwise you'll go crazy, but you're free to draw your own line of course.


What church arsonists do you listen to? It's not Mayhem, is it?

You're right, of course, that like everything in life, this isn't black and white. Everyone has to draw their own line and decide what's acceptable and what's not.


Burzum, Emperor... lol no, I just pulled an extreme example.

What I meant by "drawing the line" was not only judging what's acceptable or not, but also about the level of abstraction between yourself and the artist in a certain context.

I won't say that arson is acceptable, but I would listen to Mayhem if I happened to like it. However I wouldn't go to a meet and greet and ask for autographs. Different contexts allow for greater or less abstraction.

An analogy with your original point would be: You're okay reading his book but not watching his videos.

That's probably the best approach. Different levels of acceptance for different media / interactions with that media / that artist. Extremely subjective, unfortunately...


This is a question that needs to be answered on a case by case basis, and in Sonmez's case, he deserved everything coming his way, and it was completely self-inflicted. Had he not jumped in threads and started throwing fire-bombs? Plus, I've read his books, you're not really missing anything.


Not separating ideas, art etc. from who made it is a mistake.
It only leaves us more depraved and ignorant.

Even if it is a bad idea, art etc. then there is probably something to learn from it.

On a side note.

Is this guy not obviously frustrated?

Does he really deserve humiliation, or "being called out" and how will that help anyone?

Wont that just alienate him even more?

IMHO what he deserves is patience and help on how to deal with his frustration in an evolving world.

You would not call out a junior dev' for bad code, you would help them learn.
So why would you call out, or attack, an opinion on any other matter?

It's fruitless, and just comes of as self-serving to me when people "call others out".


Interesting. I've published on his site a number of times. I have to parse this as some of those comments and the style in which points were made are reprehensible.

Many creators happen to be terrible people. Spiritual teachers too (in my second line of work, teaching meditation, it's cults all the way down...). I've never quite figured out what to do about that, when there is beauty and usefulness in their creations and teachings...


Things like this are absolutely an invitation to reconsider your relationship with the person responsible, no doubt about it.


I am utterly shocked!!

And although I agree that what he did is bad and harmful, not to mention his misogynistic attitude, I don't believe calling him out will come up with a desired output.

I am sure we have many Johns in the industry sadly and unless we have a healthy conversation and come up with practical solutions, we won't go anywhere.

We should deploy more empathy. For Instance, I am a man with a physical disability that doesn't necessarily match the classical "being a man" checklist.

Despite being discriminated and bullied in what's supposed to be a male dominated industry, I never called out any because I knew it's about the behaviour not the person.

Most People back their answers with numbers when they talk about inclusion. Numbers are meaningless if you have a toxic work environment or misogynistic coworkers.

We almost never question the defaults. But it's about time we do!


Had no idea who he was nor do I have any idea of what's going on right now nor do I want to Google it.

So I lived and workes, and hopefully will continue on without his books or that kind of knowledge.

As for Uncle Bob I have no intentions of reading his books. You can check out Jim Coplien to get some sens about what I think of TDD, forcing patterns and his styles.

No book or knoweledge was delivered by itself but by a human. Humans make mistakes but knoweledge stays regardles od who was the one that provided it. If it's usefull it stays that way. If not it evaporates as crypto, blockchain, and other stuff. All good ideas poorly used. Those are still out there but far less popular.

Example how to be yourself. I like Jim Copliens ideas but I still use Java. I like domain driven and some parts of the clean architecture but I hate TDD and it's idea. It not practical for me. Who actually cares? If you deliver good product it fine whatever practice you followed.

Bottom line if you don't know how to deal with the people it's not the art it's your mental issues.


I honestly never heard of him before Sunday's debacle. I'll never spend one dime or minute watching or reading his stuff.

I personally won't separate art from the artist. My 2c.


// , This may just be my limited knowledge of networking, but perhaps you could start whitelisting technologies based on their source, rather than making a blacklist of art your set considers problematic, offensive, corruptive, et cetera. Some religions and media groups, in the past, have taken this approach. "Nihil obstat" or ESRB, anyone?

Social media amplifies the ability for powerful people to cause harm, and without consequences the populous has no recourse.

I take the pragmatic approach. For me, the consequence happens to be: Don't use Twitter.

I'm currently thinking pretty hard about my usage of any platform in which "Look who just called who a ____, screenshots attached!" or whatever is worthy of that platform's equivalent of a front page. I just do not have much Schadenfreude or righteous outrage left.

But the question has answers on what the artists can do. Not all the possible answers are on the side of the consumers.

Maybe the artists in question will take the Satoshi Nakamoto approach to software development. Will the artists begin separating themselves from their art? That's an option they have.

As Ben said, "things get unnecessarily dramatic", sometimes in cases where it's warranted (arguably in the subject of this post) but also in cases where it's not warranted:


By the way, someone did the service of documenting the entire disaster: I'm putting this here because I've been asked for more info twice, and this author has the best summary.


That's an eternal question debated at length in all kinds of circles. The best answer I found so far is that there is no separation: "Art is not a moral force, is not something that exists separate of us. It's life itself." - Richard Flanagan.

I'm not familiar with Sonmez's books so I'm not sure if they're worth reading, but I guess if they are then you should read them, although I very much doubt that they are worth of anything. I watched one of his videos and he didn't strike me like the sharpest tool in the shed.


Okay....what's happening?
Not trying to be offensive, but have no idea what's going on.


Your honesty just makes me so happy right now. Here's a video from John Sommez to explain some of it


I'd say it's all situational.

Personally, I like reading H. P. Lovecraft's stories, but his racist leanings were horrible, to say the least. There is a bit of wiggle room, though, considering - his racism was comical viewed through the lens of the mythos he created, he lived his whole life fearing that he was truly his father's son (in other words, clinically insane), and he frequently remarked that anyone who believed the horrors he wrote about (metaphorically, hatred of others based on cultural differences) were real were clearly lunatics.

But Sonmez is a whole different case. Instead of questioning his own hate and vitriol, he doubled down on it. This seems like the absolute wrong way to go when you write books about soft skills. Surely, if you write about soft skills, you should demonstrate that you have soft skills yourself, right? It'd be like me writing a book about the greatest football strategies ever, even though I can't stand football.

Granted, I don't like SJWs any more than he does (SJAs are more my style), but his full support of the ideology of alpha male identitarians is inexcusable. Personally, I'd rather learn about soft skills from someone who actually has soft skills.

To clarify for those who don't know what I mean by SJAs being more my style, the general definitions I go by are:

  • SJW/Social Justice Warrior - hates all things white, male, able, cis, straight, 'normie', and who are not sufficiently poverty-stricken. They have often taken less than one year of gender studies or racial studies, have not yet lived without their parents' support, are wealthy, and wish for someone who can check all the minority blocks to take all power and crush all 'normies' under their iron fist. -Purity culture for the left
  • SQW/Status Quo Warrior - hates all non-whites, women, 'the gays', 'lady boys', drag queens, 'dirty poors', no matter how poor they are themselves, non-Christians, and anyone who generally isn't them. They often pine for 'the good ol' days' when blacks were slaves, women were to be given to men by their fathers for political and financial gain, and wealthy, god-fearing men were in charge. -Purity culture for the right
  • SJA/Social Justice Activist - Someone who works to make the world a better place for everyone, regardless of skin color, sex, sexual persuasion, gender, disability, financial ability, or any other issue that divides us socially and politically. -Equality and opportunity for all, aspirations of 'purity' for none.

I understand my definitions for these terms may differ from yours (and likely Sonmez, at least on the SJA bit), but it's less about the term and more about the attitude in my book. No offense to those who still call themselves SJWs when SJA might be a better fit - again, it's about what you do and not which 3 letters you go by.


I didn't give much thoughts to this man before two days ago. I bought his book because it was recommended by several known people in this industry. If I had searched deeper into his blog or youtube channel, I wouldn't have bought this book.

Whenever you create something, I think you are always influenced by your beliefs and your ideals. Whatever those are, it will show in your creations. With that, I don't think it is possible to separate the artist from the art.

Anyway, whatever advice that man gave, you can find it in a lot of other artists, with a better, more inclusive and respectful language.

It is fascinating, and shocking, to see the reactions of people in cases like these. The Uncle Bob's reactions were incredibly disappointing. I know I won't be looking for his materials anymore.


I have been writing for Simple Programmer for a while now. The team is excellent, and they are great at supporting the writers to produce the best possible content. The editing process is excellent, and there has never been anything wrong or insulting. Neither from the content or the people I work with.

So as far as the blog Simple Programmer goes... it should not be correlated with him specifically.

While he has started it and has an insane amount of blogs on it, there is a lot you can get from the dozens of other writers that generate content on it. And the media is actually developed by a great team that moderates the blogs to be high-quality and high-value in content.

So, in that case, I do not think it is so much about separating the art from the artist... As the "art" that is Simple Programmer has evolved and is no longer his blog, but rather a media run by awesome people!


I saw this and immediately thought it would be a great place to talk about Wagner.

But this asshat Sonmez is neither artist nor art. He's an asshat.

A bigger problem is rms. I find it hard to disagree with him on many things, and he's been historically a great contributor the things I lpve and use. But he also turns out to be horrible and misogynistic.

But I don't think that means I stop using Emacs.


The ability to separate the art from the artist, IMHO, is an extremely important skill to have. To me, it is important that I approach a piece without biases, either positive or negative, stemming from anything external to the piece itself. This includes the marketing hype, recommendations from friends, and the author and his popularity, charm, history or familiarity, etc.

This mindset helps me, I think, give better and more constructive criticism to friends, and learn more from the piece that I'm studying. It also helps me avoid becoming a "die-hard fan", which more often than not is just a better term for sheep. After all, if you reject art because of the artist, then you also accept art because of the artist, which is necessarily a bad idea.

There are many things around us: inventions, ideas, books, paintings, which were created by people who have done "bad" things. Einstein wrote a letter to the president which (supposedly) caused the Manhattan project to be started. Richard Feynman's first instinct after the bomb dropped in Japan was to party. Edison electrocuted live animals to public to demonstrate why AC is bad. Should we reject everything they've given us? I say no. The light bulb is not Edison.

People are complex and multifaceted. Their creative output does not represent their entire worldview. Whether they are morally flawed or even criminal IRL shouldn't stop me from learning whatever I can from their best work. I'll continue to study, learn from, and criticise, Neruda's poems

This particular case is no exception. I didn't know about John Sonmez and I didn't follow the Twitter drama, but I don't see why I wouldn't read his book if it's any good. Also, this revenge driven mindset (he did so and so on Twitter so I'll avoid his books, even if secondhand) is really petty and not practical at all.


Disclaimer: this is obviously a joke, but to prevent anyone from getting triggered; disclaimer


art = art.unrelate(artistID);
Special a = new Special(art);

That way everything is better,
and if you get:

InseparableError: art can not remove the element "Artist"

just make a new copy of it without the ID of such persons there.

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