When you walk into an art gallery and a beautiful painting catches your attention, you stop and see it with fascination. The immediate question that tags along is, “Who made this?”. Similarly, you listen to a head-bopping song on the radio and will immediately feel drawn towards it to listen again and yet again, the question of “Who sang this song?” arises. Art is an expression of oneself. It’s used as a medium to express one’s perspectives, emotions or to put a message out. Art comes from within the artist and hence, holds a lot of meaning. Art is created due to the influences the artist has in their life. Whenever an artist creates something, it comes to be because of the artist’s cultural context, background, economic class and morals. How even can art and the artist be separated?
The question of separating the art and the artist comes only when the artist comes into the negative limelight and proves to be problematic. For example, J.K Rowling, the renowned author of the Harry Potter series, was ‘cancelled’ in 2020 because of her transphobic tweets. The fandom and the community were appalled by her words. Harry Potter is a worldwide sensation that has been a part of everyone’s childhood at some point. In such a scenario, it’s the individual’s choice whether to consume art made by the artist or not. By supporting an artist’s work, you’re supporting the artist by helping them earn their income and recognition. It is up to the individual to keep supporting the artist for their work. But also, one needs to keep in mind that if you see the problematic or bizarre reasons for how their art came to be, the way you view their art before and after knowing the reasons why it came to be will change the experience of viewing the art. Ignoring the artist’s background undermines the message being communicated to the audience.
‘Kabir Singh’ is an Indian movie starring Shahid Kapor as the protagonist who plays a problematic character who abuses his love interest and has a violent demeanour. The character is extremely patriarchal and misogynistic such that it glorifies toxic masculinity. Now, would an actor who has read the script beforehand not agree to play the role if he did not agree with the character’s traits? The actor recently also said that marriage is about women fixing men who are a mess, which sounds ridiculous. Why would an institution like marriage “fix” a man when he should be “fixing” himself? When a famed person who has a loyal fan base over the years says controversial views in public, it should also be taken into consideration that a large number of people who idolise you will take those words seriously. The sad part is most of the loyal fanbase will defend to support the actor and end up supporting the problematic remarks because again, the said words cannot be separated from the artist because the artist himself has said it.
Picasso has been characterised as a misogynist, narcissist and chauvinistic. In this scenario, you can’t see it in his paintings. Whenever famed artists are revealed to be problematic, the only thing the audience can do is acknowledge their contribution to the field of art and their problematic side as well. It’s left to the individual to support the artist but it must also be acknowledged that artists are also humans but when their causes and ideals go against humanity and law, then would supporting their art mean you’re supporting their ideals?
There is no black-and-white answer to this question that whether art and the artist can be separated. It’s impossible to separate the art and the artist but at the same time, it is possible. The artists might have done their own share of terrible things but their art would’ve inspired many people in its own way. Maybe all you see are glimpses of the artist in their art but the art is definitely created by the artist; an original creation. It’s a cycle where everyone learns, adapts, makes mistakes, unlearns and relearns. The relationship between art and the artist will always be a grey area.