Can we separate art from the artist?

When genius artists act in less than genius ways we are forced to confront what "genius" means. Some contemporary Australian artists share their views.
A typical 20th century landscape painting hangs on a white wall, with capitalised letters written across, “what would our public collections look like if we divested them of sex pests and paedophiles?” A sculpture of a realistic dead horse lies at its feet.

Following the deaths of Barry Humphries and Rolf Harris earlier this year, a perennial question has reared its head once again: how should we deal with the art and artistic legacies of artists who have caused harm? This question pokes uncomfortably at a fundamental aspect of art: the “holy trinity” relationship that exists between the artist, the art and the audience. 

While art, artist and audience are all separate entities, knowing where one ends and the other begins can be a difficult line to draw. Is it solely the genius artist that is responsible for “perfect” art? Is genius art simply determined by the audience? Or is the genius of the art independent of both the artist and the audience? 

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Grace Ellen Macpherson is a journalist, freelance writer, and cultural agent based on Cadigal land. She holds a Master of Arts and Cultural Management, and a Master of Theatre (Dramaturgy) from the University of Melbourne. She currently works at FBi Radio, and as an Editorial Assistant at The Daily Telegraph. Find her on LinkedIn @Grace Ellen Macpherson.