Should We Separate the Art from the Artist?

As social media and fan interaction with artists grow to unprecedented levels, so does the window into the lives of musicians. Tweets, political views, and actions past and present are readily at the world’s disposal. This begs the question of whether or not we should be separating the art from the artist.

Many great writers have contemplated this question, like Oscar Wilde who wrote, “To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.” Similarly, Jay Parini believed it is possible to separate the art from the artist, “There are many examples in history—too many—of great artists who were terribly flawed human beings, behaving very badly and hurting those around them. If anything, audiences easily make this distinction. Nobody looks at a Picasso painting in a museum and says, ‘I should not take this work seriously because Picasso cheated on his many wives and was abusive to his son.’”

However, others like 16th Century French Renaissance philosopher and author Michel de Montaigne, believe an artist or creative’s work should directly and holistically reflect who they are as humans on a comprehensive level. “Others shape the man; I portray him, and offer to the view one in particular, who is ill-shaped enough, and whom, could I refashion him, I should certainly make very different from what he is. But there is no chance of that … I do not portray his being; I portray his passage; not a passage from one age to another or, as the common people say, from seven years to seven years, but from day to day, from minute to minute.”

Do you feel it’s important that we look at art in the context of the individual or group who made it, or should the art stand alone and be viewed and appreciated exclusively for its quality? We discussed this question with a few musicians, including Matt Masurka (Gigamesh), Liz Nitsico (HOLYCHILD), and André Allen Anjos (RAC). Take a look below.

Matt Masurka (Gigamesh):

Matt Masurka - Gigamesh x Kuraci
Matt Masurka – Gigamesh

In my view, the suggestion that art can or should be separated from the context in which it was created is extremely problematic. In all cases, the process of separating the two cheapens the art or does a disservice to the end-consumer. For example, many white American musicians have experienced enormous success by culturally appropriating the art of black musicians and watering it down for a mass audience. While there isn’t always a clear line between sincere appreciation and exploitation, the latter is very common and aided by the average consumer being unaware or uninterested in the provenance of the products they consume. Non-artist intermediaries (ex: TV & film executives, record label owners, etc) are very good at profiting from this ignorance.

The information asymmetry in art creation and distribution also results in artists frequently escaping accountability for morally reprehensible behavior. In some cases, teams of managers and high-priced publicists are able to minimize the damage and loyal fans are eager to adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” perspective. This explains why Chris Brown’s career quickly recovered after he brutally beat Rihanna, how Israel Horowitz (successful playwright father of Adam Horowitz of the Beastie Boys) was able to sexually abuse multiple actresses without facing punishment, or how fans of Kanye West refuse to weigh how much his statements are contributing to sexism, anti-intellectualism, short-termism, and narcissism in American culture.

Van Gogh’s art is made more interesting with knowledge of his mental illness and financial struggles. Beethoven’s music is made more interesting with the knowledge that he was going deaf throughout the last part of his life. The art of countless jazz and blues musicians is made more interesting with the knowledge that they were raised in poverty and faced violent racial persecution. Context and intentions matter in every aspect of life — not least of which in the appreciation of art.

Liz Nistico (HOLYCHILD):

Liz Nistico - HOLYCHILD x Kuraci
Liz Nistico – HOLYCHILD

I do not believe that a piece of creation and its creator can be separated.

This is an interesting argument to me because in my mind it is obvious that an artist’s life and experiences directly go into making a work. Even if that work is conspicuous in its creator’s motives, it would not have been born if not for the life of the person making it.

Isn’t that the beauty of art? It moves us in some way because it has been created by a human with an intention. Now that we enter a world in which AI art is being made, we reexamine the role of that human creator. Is the artist necessary? Am I moved by art made by artificial intelligence? If so does that diminish the connection I may have to a computer generated picture or song? Or is artificially made “art” simply an amalgamation of the most fundamental aspects of human emotion represented over the past 10,000 years. I don’t want to enjoy art made by a robot, because I don’t want to believe that I’m so predictable.

I think people try to separate art from the artist because it’s hard to handle the depressing truth of humanity. An audience can only be pushed so far. For instance, if one enjoys a Woody Allen film, it is easiest to separate it from the predatory director. However, if one enjoys a Woody Allen film, and further believes the film is strong because of the disgraceful man who made it, are they condoning his actions? Are they just so cynical that they see everyone as equally as flawed?

I think we expect too much from artists. We are touched by their art and then we see them as more perfect mirrors of ourselves. They are the voices of our culture and we treat them like politicians. We love artists for their vulnerability and honesty, and we hate them when they betray our image of who they should be. I have heard people tell artists not to be political. How impossible! Is projected control a product of perceived reality? That’s what I really want to know.

André Allen Anjos (RAC):

André Allen Anjos - RAC x Kuraci
André Allen Anjos – RAC

I try to focus on the long-term and I feel that your actions and tweets will eventually become irrelevant to the art itself, given enough time. What you create should have value on its own and in a vacuum, although easier said than done. Context can be important but it’s often distracting. We’ve blurred that line so much that people can’t distinguish art from reality. A lot of artists get caught in the fake internet points arms race and forget to create something valuable. I understand the reasons why, when it’s so difficult to make a living, the lowest hanging fruit is to publish something inflammatory. The amount of retweets is not indicative of the quality of your work and your thoughts. Many times, it’s the opposite. On some level, relating to an artist’s political views can enhance that connection, but it can also alienate an entire other group of people. You can be a bad person and a good artist, and be a good person and a bad artist. I think those two things are fundamentally different and should be examined differently without bias. In the heat of the moment it’s very difficult to separate the two, but given enough time I think it’s possible to be objective about it.

Do you feel it’s important that we look at art in the context of the individual or group who made it, or should the art stand alone and be viewed and appreciated exclusively for its quality? Leave us a note in the comments or on Twitter.

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