Separating the Artist from the Art

I found myself in the interesting position of having to challenge my responses to a particular artist and their art. There are often debates about whether one can separate an artist from the work they produce. Some consider such a separation as a cop out, ignoring questionable traits in the artist for the sake of being able to enjoy the work. Or making excuses for problematic elements of the art. In my case today, I have typically had issues with the artist and therefore rejected the art without preamble. Today, I felt compelled to try a different tack and had some interesting exchanges with myself.

The things that trigger you in others are actually a mirror of the things you dislike or don’t want to accept about yourself.

But is that always the case? Isn’t there room for preference or taste? Am I obligated to like everything?

Of course not. But if you’re coming from a place of unconditional love, how does that change your attitude toward the artist and their art? Can you approach both with basic respect and compassion for another human being and go from there?

And so, removing the label of “artist,” which to me seems to carry an added layer of expectation, and just looking at this person as just another human, I was able to then ask myself, “If you were that human, how would you want to be treated?”

As an artist and creator myself, this completely shifted my mindset because I know exactly what it feels like to put yourself in that vulnerable place of sharing your work with the world. Even the most self-assured person puts out their art and opens themselves up to the potential for criticism, judgement, or scorn just as much as praise and validation. And I can find compassion for someone in that position. Which is not the same as necessarily “liking” everything they produce. At the very least, I would want someone to give my work a fair shot, engaging with it with an open mind and heart, not with the intention of finding flaws because of whatever they might think of me as a person. And if they don’t like it then I’d want them to treat me with the same respect and consideration every other human deserves.

In engaging with this person’s art, I discovered that I enjoyed it much more than I expected. There were parts that I found unpleasant, but honestly 75% of the work was objectively solid to me. I also had to recognize that part of my issue with the artist was with a persona that just really irritated me in the past. But I think that their work reveals some hidden pain and fear that had been covered up by the mask of their persona. In realizing this, I was able to appreciate their humanity even more.

Is this going to be someone I could ever see myself wanting to be friends with or hang out with? Doubtful. Will I be running out to buy all their work? Not likely. But I can wish them well in their journey and wish them success with their current project. And I can do that authentically and sincerely. I’ll count that as a win for everyone.

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