Artistic Freedom – where does the limit lie?

There is a scenario that plays out in my mind and it’s not a comfortable one. I envision that I have gained enough traction for my work in writing and this obviously prompts an aggressive probing into my work, my inspiration, my family and ultimately my life. At this point, I will have prided myself on the fact that my creative work has been appreciated and lauded to warrant the media to have a closer glimpse in my life. To deny such a public examination of my personal life to take place would be tantamount to marring my reputation.

So I open up to the public about my work and somewhere in the middle of this revelation, my personal life comes under the microscope of the insatiable public. And to my horror, my values and my beliefs are harshly redefined in front of my eyes because of a discrepancy in my work that has been grandly misconstrued. Surely there is no hope for a revival for me, is there?

Like all creatives who have broken the popularity wall and excelled at it, the question of whether your work should stand mutually exclusive of your personal life hangs in the balance. I have witnessed creatives who are accorded near-deity statuses in their respective fields ruin their standing in the eyes of a public that is sensitive to their personal lives. Whether it was a statement they made, a remark that was sourly taken out of context, a paparazzi picture that paints a dour image of them; these are overly magnified to the public by the media to tarnish the creative’s name and reduce their appeal.

The idea of separating the art from the artist creates a dilemma to the artist’s adoring fans and to the artist themselves. True to the cause, the public deserves to understand and examine a creative’s work as it cannot survive in a vacuum. Whether this examination should include facets of an artist’s personal life remains a debatable issue. Regardless, the artist indubitably owes the public the responsibility of being a role model, a voice that can be heard and a leader who can be followed. This means that the artist’s work and life will inevitably come under great scrutiny to see if it upholds the public’s standards.

Saying so would eventually mean that an artist and his/her work are conjoined at the hip – neither would survive if they were to be snipped. And I believe this to be true. An artist is usually an extension of their work. If the art comes under fire for being discriminating, tone-deaf or socially unacceptable, then the artist is also guilty as much. However, does this fact mean that the artist leads a personal life that manifests these undesirable qualities? Where does the limit to artistic freedom lie, then?

Understanding the society in which the artist operates is vital in finding out how it comprehensively limits their freedom to create. A society that is open-minded and liberal accords artists with unlimited access in disrupting normal ‘conservative’ thinking and is likely to promote and praise the artist for providing new, different and exciting perspectives through their art. Unfortunately, the vice versa is true.

Does this suggest that the artist should align his/her work to the expectations of the society? Does this mean that artistic freedom remains a preserve of the society? It would be difficult to please everyone and seeing as how we live in a society that is quick to dump artists in the trashcan of ‘bad ideas, poor execution and woeful delivery’, it becomes a Herculean task to balance the society’s expectations with the artist’s own. Ultimately, the burden falls on the artist to try and bridge this disparity and create art that is not delimited by the society’s expectations while at the same time representing the artist’s personal views.

The validity of an artist’s work is hinged on acceptance by those consuming it. Consequently, the society will determine how far and wide an artist stretches his limits to artistic expression. If the art passes the society’s litmus test,whatever that is, then it is acceptable and welcomed by that society. It would be irresponsible to create art that offends and disregards the society for the sake of an artist’s personal edification.

Suffice it to say that artists who desire to break the rigidity of their society’s structures find it difficult to have their work accepted. Their freedom to explore and talk about issues that the society claims to be taboo is curtailed and their voices are quashed underneath unforgiving feet. Their work paints a picture of their rebellious and inexcusably immoral nature that the society feels threatened about.

Take for example, the Library of Alexandria which had countless scrolls and intellectual writings ranging from law and rhetoric to tragedy and comedy that proved to be a threat to the administrative rulers who were present during its thriving period. The administration viewed the library and those who occasioned it to be a threat to their own hedonistic views, and the story of the mathematician Hypatia – killed for pursuing ancient Greek writings that the Christian rulers viewed as blasphemous – tells of the brutal and unforgiving stance that society takes in dealing with work that does not fancy their ideals.

Well, we do not live in an age of murky executions for pursuing knowledge and expressing artistic freedom anymore, but the limits are still being pushed down throats of artists and their work. In the case that an artist tries to go beyond these limits, their personal life is sadly used as bait for the society to cancel them and declare them relics of the past, desperately ‘woke’ and blatantly disregarding the society in which they operate.

The society needs to realize that they are the backbone of an artist’s work. Their rigid opinions and views in life are the limits that an artist works hard to redefine. If they are indifferent about them, then it automatically puts the artist in the difficult position of trying to free them with his/her art or risk being termed as a ‘bad apple’.

An artist’s personal life should never be collateral for their work falling under the scrutiny of the public eye. I believe that artists are still human beings who should enjoy their privacy and their rights. That being said, an artist should lead a personal life that is congruent to the values and beliefs that they present through their art.

If your work exemplifies justice and equality for all, then so should your personal life. If you are passionate about freedom from injustice, your personal life should be a testament to the cause. Otherwise any hint of incongruence is reason enough for you to get ‘canceled’.

My email is open for further inquiries into the subject matter.





One response to “Artistic Freedom – where does the limit lie?”

  1. […] society cannot expect perfection from an artist, they are liable to demand it. I talked more about the limits of artistic freedom in another post which you can refer back […]

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