On branding: the downside of being an artist today

An analysis of how money can affect an artist’s image

Focusing on defining one’s specific brand often forces artists to choose between financial security and free artistic expression.

There’s so much work produced daily that an artist must now set themselves apart to be recognized. As a result, making an impact involves developing an image telling people who you are and what you’re trying to express.

While branding can make an artist predictable and easily understandable to the public, they're often manipulated with public perceptions easily swayed. Along with this, the work of an artist is often overshadowed by their personal views, interfering with a person’s opinion of or connection with their work.

This shift of focus from the actual art to the brand of the artist seemed to occur when technology granted people more access, whether it was the printing press or social media platforms.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to respect artists separately from their work — there are many who exist upholding admirable opinions. However, it doesn’t mean we should need to know them personally or agree with all of their viewpoints to appreciate their work.

Joseph Boyden became famous as his novels and short stories garnered worldwide attention, best known for exploring the depths of First Nations culture. Recently, Boyden was met with backlash and controversy as readers questioned his own lived experiences and whether it was enough for him to be considered an Indigenous figure and writer.

Despite his primarily Irish and Scottish ancestry, Boyden had formerly made claims to Indigenous heritage. It wasn’t until an investigation carried out by Jorge Barrera on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network shed light on Boyden’s false claims.

After admitting he had incorrectly identified his ancestry, many started to question whether Boyden had the right to claim an Indigenous heritage and discuss Indigenous affairs.

Even though his work and ideas were already recognized as truthful accounts, any conversation around Boyden no longer focused on the positive educational influence of his writing and more so on his credibility.

With a politically active writer like Boyden, it’s easy to let his personal views and mistakes distract us from his artistic output. But in my opinion, his books should be weighted more heavily than his words and actions. 

Boyden’s past and the brand he puts forth have absolutely nothing to do with the issues he writes about in his novels. Yet the artist is confused with the art he produces.  

Like people — even artists make mistakes.

When someone other than an artist controls the image of that artist, it can be disastrous. And let’s be honest, very few people are able to wield a public presence effectively.

This is where a brand comes in —  it’s a public presence that an artist puts forward, but we shouldn’t refer to or rely on it to determine how we’re influenced by their art.

The mistake happens when we cross that line from art to artist. An artist can talk about art endlessly, and people can talk about their experiences endlessly. Let’s stop making the mistake of mixing the two together. 

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