The relationship between the ‘artist’ (whether this be a composer, film-maker, actor, designer, generally creative person etc.) and their art is a problematic one to say the least. Is it possible, or in fact morally acceptable, for us to belt Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ without being reminded of his, let’s call it dubious, relations with children? Should we continue to celebrate Roald Dahl’s storytelling abilities, to allow children to read the likes of ‘The BFG,’ despite our knowledge of Dahl’s openly anti-Semitic views, his remark that ‘even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.’
Perhaps our ability to disentangle an artist and their work is partially dependent on how much that artist’s persona bleeds into the final product that is perceived by us. We are seemingly able to appreciate Roman Polanski’s works despite his pleading guilty to the statutory rape of 13-year-old Samantha Geimer in 1977. Polanski’s films remain distinctly separate from his persona, permitting the audience to temporarily disregard our moral conscience, and consider the art beyond the confines of autobiography. In contrast, it is arguably increasingly difficult to assess and interact with Woody Allen’s films without referring to Allen’s personality. For me, Allen’s art is partially tainted by the sexual abuse allegations that shadow him: often his work, in which he heavily features, depict the relationships between older men and much younger women (in ‘Manhattan’ Allen dates, and fetishizes teenagers). Equally, Chris Brown makes it increasingly difficult for the listener to appreciate his music without being haunted by his history of domestic violence. The rapper’s misogynistic lyrics to ‘Biggest Fan’ feature the distressing lines: ‘When you scream I need, To pull your body closer, let me sex you baby, Girl you better not change your mind.’ Can we permit ourselves to enjoy these ‘insightful’ lyrics without their problematic association with Brown’s personal life?
Time is further influential in how we interpret art and its creator, as those who are denounced in life are often venerated after death. We do not condemn ‘The Cat in the Hat,’ despite Dr Seuss’s racial abuse of the Japanese, whilst David Bowie is hailed as a cultural icon, a beacon for non-conformers, as opposed to a public figure suspected of sexual misconduct. Perhaps, death is the only way in which society can reconcile the relationship between an artist and their work, allowing us to excuse misdeeds with the same ease with which we passed judgment. The art of the dead is somehow detached, as we are able to appreciate the work in a space that is distinct from our contemporary reality, without the niggling of our moral conscience.
In our technologically driven modernity however, it appears futile to so much as attempt to distinguish between art and the artist, as social media blurs the relations between the producer and their exports. Album sales are highly dependent on a musician’s ability to navigate the digital world, their relevancy on twitter more valuable than their lyrical composition. Kanye West offers one solution to this dilemma as he resists attempting to establish a dichotomy between ‘art’ and ‘artist’ but rather exploits its problematic relationship, using his controversial persona as a means of generating profits. Would we really have heard quite so much of Kanye West’s ‘The Life of Pablo’ if West hadn’t chosen to exploit his continual difficulties with Taylor Swift, triggering a media frenzy?
This notion could equally be applied to London’s own artistic genius Dappy who, in a last ditch attempt to boost single sales, leaked a picture of his own penis. The N-Dubz star boasted on Celebrity Big Brother, ‘I released it. It went in every newspaper and magazine… and by Sunday I was number one by miles.’ What a guy.