The separation of art and artist is a difficult topic to debate. In theory, a piece of art, whether that be fine art or a performance, is an entity in and of itself, and should therefore be distinguished from the artist who made it. However, this is not always the case. In modern society, when news and events travel fast, we are more informed and aware of the lives of artists and celebrities, to the extent where their work becomes intrinsically bound to them. The question is, is this reality dangerous, and should the artist be separate from their work?
This discussion peaks and subsides in waves, usually coinciding with a new revelation in the world of the arts about an individual. This time, it is the alleged abuse of two young boys by Michael Jackson that has sparked the debate once again. The issue is very polarising: with Jackson, some will abstain from listening to his music as a result of these accusations, while others will continue to listen to it simply because they continue to enjoy the music despite Jackson’s actions.
As mentioned previously, the fundamental idea that a detached entity has been created with no physical binding to the artist means that the artist should be separated from it, and this is my personal standpoint. If the artist then commits a crime or carries out an act that strongly damages the public’s perception of him or her, the work of said artist is viewed differently, and anything linked to their name is tainted.
One example that springs to mind is Kevin Spacey, a very talented actor that is now associated with accusations of groping and sexually assaulting young men and boys, some of them underage. Of course, his actions are awful, and the public disapproval is justified, but his actions do not change the fact that he is a talented actor who has given some incredible performances in the course of his career. In a discussion I recently had about the television series House of Cards, all parties strongly admired Spacey’s performance in the show, but I was alone in my continued admiration after the news about the actor came to light. To me, the series is still the exact same product as it was before the revelations, and it is just as impressive a performance.
On the other hand, this means that support is shown for a horrible person through praising their art. Although not supporting the actions that created the negative perception, the general backing of that individual can be questionable. To again use the example of Spacey, I have admitted that I still admire his performances, but there was a hesitance to state this fact due to fear of being misrepresented as someone who condones his actions, which could not be further from the truth.
In light of all of this, is it even possible to separate art and artist? The answer, I believe, is no, but the extent to which this separation can happen depends on the individual consuming the art. When consuming art, whatever it may be, the credit is given to the artist and this is always known to the consumer. It is physically impossible, in my mind, to be exposed to a name that is associated with malpractice and not have the said malpractice resurface in one’s mind. The link being made is subconscious due to the information we now have, and subsequently the connection between the art and its creator is made almost like a reflex. Our perception of the artist is tainted almost automatically, and I guarantee that the next time a scandal unfolds in the arts world, it will be a very similar scenario once again.