If you’re an artist, a writer, designer, painter, director, actor … should you keep your thoughts to yourself for risk of discouraging potential fans? Or should you say what you think? In short, how much are artists representative of their art?
Let’s look at some examples.
1) Oscar Wilde – Author, essayist and playwright. Wilde firmly believed art contained no moral instruction. “Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” He thought that whatever meaning the reader interpreted, came from the reader and not the work or the writer. Ironically, Wilde’s own novel was used against him in his trial as proof of his homosexuality. His work might have worked against him at the time but Wilde’s notoriety has helped his work stay canonical. In history, art and artist have been bound, despite that artists protestations.
2) Mel Gibson – Actor. A more recent example. In 2006, Gibson reportedly said anti-Semitic remarks when he was arrested for drunk driving. It was a bad night all round for him on the PR front. No one is contesting that racism is wrong or that drunk driving is dangerous but should the actors actions off screen effect the way you view their films? (Good) Actors are chameleons, slipping their skin to throw themselves into a role, so little of themselves remain in the character. Is there a separation between liking the actor, admitting he’s good at his job, and disliking the man, in this case because he’s a racist? Or are the two too closely linked?
3) J.K. Rowling – Author. In more current news, Rowling gave a sizeable contribution to the Scotland ‘Stay Together’ campaign. Arguably, this is much less controversial than the other two examples but raises the same point. Rowling’s support for this political issue has nothing to do with her work. But there are people out there that would turn away from it because they hold the opposite political view, even though this political view would be cited nowhere in her work.
These are just three examples but there are tons more, some more controversial than others. Should we view art and artist separately or not? Historically they have been viewed as one and the same and you can see the reasons why. On the one hand, you’re paying these people and you may not want to see them better off for views or actions you disagree with. But there is a case to be made for viewing them separately, you may be paying these people but they’re not politicians (yet). You’re not paying them for their views, you’re paying them for their work, which can have nothing to do with them as a person.
It’s a fact that you can’t please everybody. Whether it’s your religion, politics or lifestyle choices, you are going to offend somebody … but you can avoid deliberately annoying them (or inciting hatred). Artists in the public eye tread a fine line, sometimes the less controversial you are the better you do, i.e Matt Damon, and sometimes controversy can boost you up, i.e. Oscar Wilde or Miley Cyrus. (I never thought I’d use those two in the same sentence).
I try to separate the artist and the art in my mind but sometimes it’s hard. What about you? Do you think they should be viewed separately? Have you heard something about an artist that made you boycott their work?