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Which is more important: the art or artist?

When I was in college, a professor pointed out something the artist Picasso hid in a portrait he painted of his second wife Marie-Thérèse Walter. I remember the professor laughing as he covered up the bottom part of her face in La Rêve. I expected to see something fun. Instead, he revealed that Picasso had turned the top part of her head into a penis.


A beautiful love letter of a painting was a dick joke. This woman he ‘loved’ was the butt of the joke.

woman holding her head
Photo by David Garrison on

Everyone in the room seemed to find the joke picture funny. I couldn’t. The hidden misogyny shocked me. Knowing that this woman was a second wife whom Picasso seduced when she was 17 and he was 45 and already married made it even grosser.

Becoming aware of who this man was and how he viewed and treated women was misaligned with what I could admire. He was no longer an artist I wanted to emulate. He was not an example of someone I’d want my kids to imitate.

I couldn’t look at Picasso’s art the same way.

Does art owe anything to the artist, or should it exist on its own merits?

Friends tell me, “You have to separate the art from the artist!”

But I can’t. When I look at Picasso‘s art, I see his disdain for women. I think about the lovers he discarded. I remember stories of what happened to brilliant women after encountering him: suicide attempts, abandoned art careers . . . And he was a gross, old pedophile.

Still, people love him. For them, art is more important than who creates it.

For me, how you do one thing is how you do everything. That means the artist who makes the art is as important as the art being made.

As an artist, I know that my soul and heart are embedded in my work. Wouldn’t the work of other artists be reflections of who they are, what they believe, and what they value as well?

What about politics and public figures?

These conversations about art and artists remind me of similar arguments I had with people around 2016 when I questioned whether we should put someone who felt entitled to ‘grab women by the p—‘ in a position of political power.

Family members told me, “But you have to separate the man from the morality; everybody’s dirty in Washington.”

That shouldn’t be an excuse we accept.

If we lower our expectations, there’s no end to the ways in which people will fail us.

Modern morality and the challenge it poses

We live in interesting times. It used to be that people who were religious acted in a moral manner because they were religious.

Not so anymore.

There’s a strange streak of self-righteousness in public dialogue that asserts anything a ‘religious’ person does must be moral (as long as it’s the ‘right’ religion).

But religion has nothing to do with being moral or conducting yourself ethically anymore.

You don’t need religion to do the right thing. And if you do the wrong things, it doesn’t matter what you believe.

That brings me back to the question of if it’s the art or the artist who’s more important. Can you admire something knowing the person who created it did horrible things?

Where does your moral compass point?

Mine points to: do no harm and take no crap.

When people go out of their way to harm others or think it’s funny to disparage them, that’s where I draw the line. I’m not going to shame you for liking Picasso, but I can’t stomach him. He’s crossed my line.

Where do you draw your line?

Creative challenge: Bring your admiration of others into alignment with your values

Your challenge this week is to think about your moral center:

  • What kind of behavior do you find unacceptable?
  • Do you have idols who fall short of your standards?
  • What would happen if you cut them out of your intellectual diet?

We are what we consume. We become what we admire.

That’s why I think you need to be careful of what and who you give your admiration and respect.

Let your moral center guide you. Bring your admiration into alignment with your values.

That’s your challenge.


Let me know how it goes! Share your thoughts and experiences by replying to this email or tag @trulykristi on social channels. 🙂

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One response to “Which is more important: the art or artist?”

  1. News tonight is Santos is finally being held to account. That bit of good news was overshadowed by reports on Bobby Kenndy ,Jr. being nothing but another grifter to the shame of the family.. It is absolutely our job in a democracy to hear the facts and have judgement to act accordingly. The biggest enemy of democracy is “Both sides do it. They are all corrupt.” There are very honest politicians working hard for the nation and we have malicious narcisists. We must know the difference.
    In art, you mention Picasso, my life’s challenge has been learning that the very unique,titantic genius of Wagner was to see the greatness of his art owes part of its greatness to the fact it incorporated the so oft villified man into his noble visions. It is complex but Wagner would never taint his art with a vulgar joke like Picasso’

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