I used to have a coworker who HATED Picasso. He was a womanizer she said, but I argued that it doesn’t matter. Picasso is a genius who changed art in so many incredible ways.
On the same note, one of my close friends hates Georgia O’Keeffe because she took a class about her in college and didn’t like O’Keeffe because of what she learned about the artist’s life and personality. I argued again that O’Keeffe’s work in person was breathtaking. Who cares if she made choices in her life that you don’t agree with?
Last week, I posted a list of my favorite books and movies about artists for both kids and adults. In the post, I talk about how learning about the artist can add another dimension to connecting with their work. I love watching videos of artist’s work and seeing a fingerprint or a spontaneous brushstroke that shows the movement of the artists hand through space. These things connect me to the person on the other side and help me feel like a part of this world.
But, I think there is a fine line here that I can’t seem to place myself on either side of. I do love connecting with the artist, but what happens when the artist is a jerk or someone who abandoned their kids or even Hitler who was a struggling artist himself?
Can we still love and appreciate and be moved by art made by unsavory characters?
I personally think that art should speak for itself and stand alone. I believe we shouldn’t just the picture by the personality of the person who made it. I rarely bring in elements of the artist’s life unless it somehow relates to the art we are studying (like the death from tuberculosis of Munch’s mother and sister contributing to the sadness in his art or the rape of Artemisia Gentileschi contributing to her strong female characters and chosen subject matter).
On the other hand, I also would never seriously show Hitler’s art or discuss it outside of the horrific context surrounding it or an aesthetics discussion like this one.
It’s a personal choice I guess. Where you draw the line may be different from where I draw the line.
What do you think? Can we separate art from artist? Should we? What does this mean for our teaching? Let me know in the comments or on this post on Facebook.