Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Can the Art Be Separated from the Artist?

by Lewis Wells



“It should be, and must be, possible to separate the work of art from their artist at the appropriate time.”

Every piece of Art (I’m talking: Film, Music, Book, Design, anything created or crafted by a human being, organisation or entity) is created by an artist, or group of artists, and there lie our two focal areas when we apply, discuss and disseminate this artwork to the public domain. Director and Film. Producer and TV Show. Author and Book. The two are predominantly inseparable, right? The book resonates with the author’s personal and highly-informed experiences, opinionated and personalised reactions and verdicts on the very things that make ourselves interested. So is it ever possible to separate the book from the author, in the event that they do not connect with each other at some stage of the writing of the book? That they are wholesomely disjointed from their artwork? It could be that there is an area that author knows very little about, or rather has no real personal influence over within that piece of artwork which contributes to our cultural understanding of the subject as the audience. Secondly, to what extent do we judge, misinterpret, hinder and even prevent access to the material of such artists in the event they are convicted of wrongdoing in the form of distasteful outspoken opinions? Racism? Xenophobia? Poorly-informed historical knowledge? My answer to my original question. It should be, and must be, possible to separate the work of art from their artist at the appropriate time. Thirdly, our restraint of the material of an artist in the wake of an artist’s behaviour is growing. This is a cause for concern.

“We discuss the danger of increased censorship and withdrawal too little”
Introducing a case study in Roseanne Smith’s comedy show on ABC. I’ve not seen it, I don’t immediately plan to, and I have no real knowledge on the programme itself. For those of you unaware, she’s an outspoken conservative with a supposedly family-friendly television show in the United States. It’s frowned upon that someone who could possibly possess Conservative views is enabled her own television programme. Yeah, that’s clear. Most recently, in her free time on social media, she claimed an African-American was the product of “Planet of the Apes”. She later retracted and apologised for this racist remark. Within hours of the comment, ABC cancelled her television program. Would I be perhaps more accepting of this verdict had she propagated her comments via her show? I can understand the defence of reputation and ‘covering one’s back’. All I cannot understand however is that we discuss the danger of increased censorship and withdrawal too little and owe it to technological advancements and the fear of public backlash.

“To what extent is it now unethical and wrong to watch, partake in and enjoy the existing material produced by these chastised artists?”
“Someone with racist viewpoints does not deserve a platform to voice such opinions in the event she decides to on a television programme”. Or, that she is rewarded with media involvement despite her out-of-work behaviour. Both valid points. I don’t have a conclusive and thorough view on this matter. What I can vouch for assessing now though, is that a potential 50 people have lost their work placements within this show. Actors and filming personnel alike. To what extent will their careers be affected by the decision to disable them from developing their skills and fulfilling their desires in the facilitation of this TV show? Only time will tell. To what extent are the decisions made by ABC in the case of distasteful employees being chastised transparent and consistent? By my understanding, not very. This is also a cause for concern. 

“Would I be perhaps more accepting of this verdict had she propagated her comments via her show?”
Ditto, Kevin Spacey and House of Cards. I need not elaborate here, as I mirror the exact same points for discussion highlighted in the case study of Roseanne. What is different here though, is that the development of his artwork was allowed to take place despite his abhorrent actions having already taken place. But we know now! Here’s my take on the bigger picture. To what extent is it now unethical and wrong to watch, partake and enjoy in the existing material produced by these chastised artists? To what extent must their existing creations now be rigorously assessed and broken down to search for traits of ill-informed behaviour being involved in the creation of such work in the past? Given their behaviour, is all their work null and void? Is it now a poor reflection on the audience if they are to be seen involved with this art knowing that the artist responsible has since made a silly comment or has been found out over their past? 

All, in my opinion, valid points. Secondary case study: the burning of books by select religious and cultural groups. I need not define who you may be thinking about at this time. Because regardless of specifics, this occurs, en masse, to more people than you know about. You could simply be a member of a particular group, and be succumbed to the restriction of freedom in the availability of your work to others, rather than have your work assessed separately. Maybe, perhaps, for the individual and subjective quality, performance and content of such work. Well, wouldn’t that be great. 

I’m getting quite fed up of art being wholesomely associated with their artists, as if it is always a complete reflection of their thoughts and actions, for the entirety of their lives, and scrutiny is justifiable to the extent of invalidating artwork, in the event mistakes are made, at some stage within their lives. Its part of the ongoing trend I’m witnessing, that it cannot be ethically acceptable to read a certain newspaper or magazine, because of the opinion of one editor or columnist’s viewpoints, or something said back in 1956. Well, I guess those 500 other people that contribute to such a publication have a fairly hard time, then. They must all be the same, right! 

“I’m getting quite fed up of art being wholesomely associated with their artists, as if it is always a complete reflection of their thoughts and actions”
I encourage you deeply to consider the benefits of evaluating the differences between an artist and their work. I encourage you to consider that it may not always be inappropriate to continue to enjoy and appreciate an artist or their content in the event that particular artist does something wrong, even something you strongly disagree with. It’s all about tolerance, acceptance, that people make mistakes, that they have different opinions to you, and that there’s more to the world of art than straight forward similarity, resonance and conformity to rules & regulations. Enjoy the artwork, not necessarily the personalities of the people behind it. They’re in most cases separable. If we dug deep into everyone’s pasts and analysed all their respective comments and actions throughout their existence, and subsequently detracted from engaging in their creations, not only would they lose out, we would also, from the diverse artistic enrichment that such engagement benefits us. 

I’d love to hear if you agree or disagree. You can email me at lewis.wells19@pgs.org.uk

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