Separating the Artist from the Art
In our usual day to day lives, most people are conscious about who we associate ourselves with, because we as a society are afraid of what an association with someone controversial could do to our reputation.
We tend to glamourize the work we enjoy and the creators of said work… that is, until they are accused of something controversial or wrong. Some are quick to delete their work off their phones and scrub them from their lives while some say that artists and their art are separate entities.
So the question must be asked, can you separate the artist from the art? Should you separate the artist from the art?
The importance of this question seems to rise only when social media collectively decides to ‘cancel’ artists. The hypocrisy of this can be seen now as the 21st century has its fair share of problematic artists, like Chris Brown, XXXTentacion, 6ix9ine and the infamous R Kelly.
There are instances when no one seems to care. Caravaggio, for instance, was one of the greatest and most influential of the Italian Renaissance painters of the 17th century, known for his paintings such as the “Bacchus” and “The Calling of St. Matthew.” Being a celebrity in the art world is sure to give anyone a huge ego, which often got him into trouble - like the time he murdered a pimp.
In 1606, Caravaggio defended his honour by killing Ranuccio Tomassoni, the pimp of Fillide Melandroni (an escort and friend of Caravaggio), for a sex worker whom he was in love with. In 17th century Italian tradition, whenever a man's woman is insulted, he cuts off the offender's genitalia in a duel, a tradition Caravaggio aggressively upheld. Originally, scholars thought Caravaggio had attacked Tomassoni because of a tennis game, and another theory held that he was homosexual (because of his vast numbers of nude male drawings), but both theories were discredited upon new findings, casting Caravaggio in a new light, that is, a castrating lover.
And then we have the case of Picasso, who once proclaimed, "Women are machines for suffering." Throughout his lifetime, he did his best to prove that true. Compulsively unfaithful, Picasso collected models, slept with them, and brutalized them, alternating icy control — he demanded submissiveness in all things, and absolute worship. As far as he was concerned, women were "either goddesses or doormats", and he did not fail to prove that true either.
Picasso pinned Francoise Gilot, one of his mistresses, to a bridge railing and threatened to throw her into the river for seeming "ungrateful". When she tried to leave, he held a lit cigarette to her cheek to brand her. He forced Dora Maar, his other mistress, to physically fight Marie-Therese Walter, the mother of his child, for his affections while he stayed in the room throughout the brawl and beat Maar into unconsciousness himself on at least one occasion. His first wife, Olga Khokhlova, committed suicide to get out of their marriage because he refused to get a divorce seeing that she would get half of his wealth if he ended the marriage. Some of Picasso’s paintings reflect his horrible and twisted mindset. In his sketches from The Vollard Suite, there are pieces such as the “Minotaur Caressing a Sleeping Girl” that portray sexual assault as the Minotaur, which has been seen to be an expression of the artist’s forbidden desires. Museums have consistently disregarded his misogynistic behaviour in an attempt to separate art from the artist, despite the fact that Picasso himself remarked that all his work could be categorized into seven distinct styles, each one a document of his relationship with the seven women in his life.
Skip forward a couple of decades, we have R. Kelly who has been facing allegations of sexual abuse for more than two decades. The stories go back to the start of his career in the 1990s, with many centering on the alleged predatory pursuit of teenage girls. He is currently facing multiple state and federal charges in the US, with accusations including sexual assault, abuse of a minor, making indecent images of minors, racketeering and obstruction of justice. The 52-year-old has consistently denied the claims. R Kelly was sued three times in 2001-2002. 2 out of the 3 cases were made for relations he had with the women while they were underage.
In 2019, the Lifetime documentary, ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ presented the most comprehensive look yet at the allegations against the musician.
The final two segments are particularly harrowing, featuring stark testimony from his accusers, and footage of parents attempting to rescue daughters they haven't seen for years. While many of the stories are familiar, the documentary rams home the argument that Kelly was enabled by those around him. Two weeks after the programme was broadcasted, Kelly was dropped by his record company.
R. Kelly has been in prison for over a year.
Despite this, Kelly still ropes in over 4 million monthly listeners on Spotify.
Art does not exist in its own alternate universe, it is part of our own and is affected by all human behavior, good and bad. All art is a culmination of the artist’s emotions, thoughts and circumstances. At that point, one might even consider the art a part of the artist.
Art should still be enjoyed, but it should be done with the understanding of the baggage associated with the artist.