Point/Counterpoint: Should you separate art from the artist?

Journal staff debate the connection between artists and their art

Image by: Ali Safadi
Art can be viewed as an expression of an artist’s deeply held convictions.

NO: Artists communicate their convictions through their work 

Good art should be perceived as effortless. It flows naturally from start to finish, preventing the reader from noticing the hard work that went into its creation. To do this, an artist must use their own perspective on life and become vulnerable to their audience or reader.

The level of intimacy needed to create a masterpiece requires a seamless blend of personal experience and creative expression. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, is an obvious example.

Before Rowling wrote Harry Potter, she was an unemployed single mother. The character Harry Potter was inspired by her position, before becoming the “chosen one.” Rowling’s lived experiences ultimately bled into her work, shaping Harry’s quest for love and acceptance. Without Rowling exposing her own vulnerability, this story would have never been written.

In her most recent book, The Ink Black Heart, the connection between Rowling’s personal beliefs and the narrative is palpable. The novel, which Rowling published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, follows a character who is harassed and killed for appearing transphobic. Rowling is known for inciting hate against the trans community, and in this instance the connection between artist and art is blatantly obvious.

Art is a form of expression, and artists often infuse their work with their personal views—making it difficult for audiences to detach the art from the artist. When individuals feel strongly about their own views, it can influence how they perceive and interpret art. While we don’t have to agree with someone else’s views, knowing about an artist’s personal beliefs or actions may shape the lens through which people view their work—especially if their views are controversial, offensive, or morally objectionable.

Poet William Butler Yeats asked us how we might know the dancer from the dance nearly a hundred years ago, and the answer remains the same. You can’t separate the art from the artist, art is merely the action of exposing one’s soul for the rest of us to ingest, criticize, and consider.

Lukas Rohner-Tensee, Contributor

YES: Artists shouldn’t be reduced to their unpopular beliefs

Separating art from the artist isn’t only possible, but beneficial.

The most essential part of experiencing music is forming a connection to songs, albums, and artists. It’s therefore quite difficult when the artist who provides us with experiences and cherished memories turns out to have done terrible things that don’t align with our personal views.

The emotional connection one has to an artist’s work is a slippery slope and can quickly manifest itself into an obsession, which overshadows the inherent individuality and relatability art should offer.

It’s harmful to the bond we form with an artist’s work, as the art takes on a singular narrative of the perceived negative aspects of an artist’s life and experiences, eliminating the ability for us to find our own meaning and relatability to the work, which is necessary for separation.

In its most basic form, art is a creative outlet. It reflects our moods, experiences, and beliefs. These things naturally and rightfully evolve, as do the artist and their art.

We risk preventing future possibilities for change if we retroactively attribute modern day narratives—even if they’re earned­—to an artist’s complete body of work. It not only detracts from the person an artist was when they made a piece of work but prevents them from being recognized for their past and future creative achievements.

While our ability to enjoy art is always a vehicle for growth, decay, and development, marrying the artist to their art sterilizes art under one banner and preconception. By allowing art to exist independently of its creator, we preserve the multifaceted nature of the human experience, embracing change and diversity of thought. It’s therefore right for art to be separate from an artist. 

George Manning, Contributor


Art, Artist, Music

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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