Artist & creation: should we separate creators from their art?
A brief look at artists whose political views will surprise you
The question of whether or not we should view art separately from the artist (and our perception of them) is as old as time. Perhaps now more than ever we are faced with this question on a monthly, if not weekly basis. Cancel culture has become ingrained in society and controversies surrounding celebrities grow exponentially. However, not many people know that many artists whom we admire for their contributions to art history used to have quite controversial views too. Back then, people were also questioning whether or not we should separate the artists from their creations, history is now the judge of how things turned out for them. I will be looking at a couple of examples that I found striking.
It may be hard to believe, but one of the most beloved Impressionists was, in fact, a republican. Of course, back in the 1870s things were much different and being a republican then had a different set of connotations to what it is seen as now. Nevertheless, after France's defeat in the war of 1870-71 and the Commune uprising, the desire for change brought about a new political regime - the Third Republic. Monet was against political conflict and like many French people at the time wished to see a meaningful change in his country. Monet believed in democracy and patriotism. Monet's focus on modern life subjects and depiction of 'ordinary' scenes could be seen as partial consequences from these views.
Emil Nolde was among one of the first German Expressionists, a member of the Die Brücke group, who experimented with the use of colour and brushwork. His paintings were among those who led the way into abstraction; he is definitely among the pioneers of his style and holds a significant place in art history books. However, he was also a part of the national socialist party in Germany, so practically, a Nazi... The party, however, did not recognise his art and they even condoned it by including his painting in their 'Degenerate art' exhibition in 1937/38, where they showcased art that they found to be opposing the cultural ideals of Germany at the time and were to be either destroyed or sold after the exhibit. So, it's unclear how much association Nolde really has with the Nazis.
Many will be familiar with the sculpture above by Umberto Boccioni. An iconic Futurist who launched this major movement in Italy at the beginning of the 20th century. Perhaps the most radical movement in Italy and the most far removed from the Italian Renaissance, it has brought attention to the Italian art scene and influenced the European one. However, Boccioni and other Futurists had a set of quite extreme beliefs which adhered to Italian Fascism. They advocated for the rise of workers along with the glorification of war and its 'hygienic effect. Article 10 of the manifesto read: 'We want to demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice'. In retrospect, anyone would find it hard to believe that people would support such artists. But in the political climate at the time, their art and views did not cause as much controversy as they would today.
I hope I did not ruin any of the above artists' artworks for you! I'll let the readers decide whether or not they will view those artists differently now. However, these artists' contributions to the world of art remain monumental, so I'm prepared to cut them some slack on what they were thinking a hundred years ago.
Thank you for reading this story! If you enjoyed it, please share and tip if you can. Stay tuned for more art writing! If you want to discuss anything mentioned above, do reach out on Twitter - I'll be happy to talk more art!