Whether art should be divorced from the artist and their character has been a subject of debate. RAHEEMAH AROGUNDADE writes on the appreciation of art amid the artist’s character flaws to avoid throwing away the baby with the bath water
Hypothetically, an artist who has been seen as an abuser would not only suffer criticism from the public; their art would also suffer a reduction in value, viewership and acceptability. This is the extent to which subjectivity affects art.
So, should an artist’s competence be judged by their unacceptable attitude or inadequacies? Is it fair to bring subjectivity into the appreciation of art? Many a time, people and societal expectations determine the way art is perceived, disregarding art for art’s sake; so much so that it becomes effortful to objectively assess a work of art without including an issue from the artist’s personal life. This often colours the expected genuineness of their appraisal.
Viewing art in this light actually lessens its value, foregrounds subjectivity and backgrounds objectivity, which is required for an evaluation of art. That is perhaps why the famous British writer, Alan Dapre, opined, “Art is personal, criticism shouldn’t be.”
This also aligns with the view of Opeyemi Sanusi, who believes that a piece of art should be objectively evaluated.
“An art piece should be appreciated as it is and not based on either the good or bad habits of its producer. An artist may be bad, but the period of production of an art piece may be his/her escape route from whatever challenges s/he may be facing or whatever shortcomings s/he has. Likewise, an artist may have healthy habits and his art productions may be average.
“Appreciating a piece of art, therefore, on the basis of the personality of its maker makes such assessment unreal and bias. It makes us lose track of the genuineness of arts and makes us appreciate art less,” she told Financial Street in an interview.
For Aderonke Alabi, a piece of art should be adjudged differently from its maker.
Her words, “We cannot see the value inherent in an art piece till it is placed in fair comparison with other art pieces in the same category. Their producers do not necessarily have to come into play when evaluating the uniqueness of an art piece.”
When it becomes difficult to judge a work of art based on its overall value, we begin to lose sight of one of the most important things, says Omolayo Agboola. “Appreciating good art is an individual thing that comes from our sense of satisfaction with such work.”
However, Ikechukwu Ezeigwe, a professional artist, asserts that an artwork is best appraised both objectively and subjectively, because you can’t totally separate an art work from the artist.
“Appreciating a work of art objectively can give you a hint into the personal life of the artist; his thoughts, background, belief system, ideologies as well as his life philosophy.
“Edmund Burke, in his book, Forms And Meaning, wrote, “Art is an instrument of personal expression as well as self revelation. Thus, through art, the private emotions and details of the artist’s life can be examined,” he explained.
We live in a world where news and allegations, accompanied by judgements, spread like wild fire, even before confirmations or otherwise can be made. As a result, any allegation, whether groundless or valid, made against an artist already affects his art before they would have the opportunity to clarify the issue.
Few weeks back, the news made the rounds on social media that singer Simi commented about how unnatural homophobia was and how it was considered a sin before God. The comment, which a lot of people perceived as homophobic, generated a lot of controversial responses. Hence, she was tagged intolerant and discriminatory. In response to her action, some twitter users went as far as deleting all her songs on their phones and unfollowing her on social media. Despite that Simi is considered one of the top artistes in Nigeria, her comment, which did not go down well with people led to a decrease in her fan base and public acceptability.
This is a pervasive issue that is not only restricted to Nigeria; even in the more developed countries, artists still face the same issues. More recently is the issue of pop legend, Michael Jackson (now the late), who was accused by two men of abusing them while they were younger. Considering that the late singer had a history of child abuse accusations, and the documentary done in this case, it was difficult believing otherwise. And he suffered a huge backlash, which definitely affected the appreciation of his songs. As a matter of fact, the accusations he faced in 2003 were one of the major causes of the decline of his music career.
MJ’s career isn’t as lucky as that of jailed Robert Kelly, who until recently, still had a thriving career despite facing multiple sexual assault allegations over time.
The reality, however, is that the appreciation of art is an individual thing, while the castigation of an artist is a social occurrence. Appraising a work of art positively ideally occurs due to the sense of inner gratification people feel when that work of art is seen or heard.
This topic broaches the deeper question regarding the morality of consuming art made by ‘bad’ people.
In Ezeigwe’s opinion, if an artist has reproachable habits, then his works should be studied to have an understanding of his mindset. According to him, insights could be gained into such artist’s personal life and such insights may be useful in correcting his bad behaviours.
There is need to acknowledge that stigmatising a work of art on the basis of its maker’s inadequacies does great disservice to the art itself. A piece of art is a separate entity from its maker and, as such, should be appreciated without any bias, especially not one based on human hubris.
Ezeigwe suggests that the artist may be different entity from his art, even as they are still not mutually exclusive.
His words, “To understand this clearly, I want us to look at it biblically. In the art circle, we believe God is the master artist and we are his creation with a will and a mind of our own, making us a separate entity but with a signature of the creator, which is his spirit inside us. So, even as we are a separate entity with a mind and will, there is something inside us all that makes it possible for us to relate with God: His Spirit.”
Omolayo Agboola told Financial Street that judgements about art are better when objectivity prevails.
“While in truth some art producers can have visible shortcomings, a good art should be seen as a good art. Irrespective of the lifestyle an artist chooses or his way of life, that should not undermine the excellence of his art,” she said.
Yesteryears, many artists might have been forgiven for their shortcomings after irreparable damage had been done to their works. Nowadays, as more sharks are being unmasked, separating the art from the artist may become even more arduous. But it’s an assignment worth trying out, for the love of the art.
Art has been at the receiving end of the artist’s castigation; many opine that it is only fair that art itself is given a chance to blossom. According to the proponents of this school of thought, while it is important for an artist to live right, in cases where reverse is the case, such prejudices should not be allowed to affect appraisal of the art.
“Every piece of art tells a unique story. We should try to see through the art and feel the emotions it holds within. We should try to look beyond the obvious bias we may have for its maker, and appreciate the art itself,” said Opeyemi Sanusi.
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