“We need to separate the artist from the artwork”. By Nicholas Ringskog Ferrada-Noli in DN.

Nicholas Ringskog Ferrada-Noli - DN 3 February 2015

Editor’s Note:

Nicholas Ringskog Ferrada-Noli writes in DN that we should evaluate a work of art independent of the attributes of his/her creator, including ideological stance. “We need to separate the artist from the artwork, we need to distinguish a work of artistic content from its possible message and, above all, we must distinguish goodness from artistic quality.”

ritratto-di-dorian-jpg-Z8P92LXDNicholas’ point is politically impeccable, and in principle his conclusion could also be applicable to other spheres of intellectual production – as in scientific reports or even published societal opinions. It is in fact the equivalent of what we call in Logic, falacia argumentum ad-hominem. As far history of literature criticism is concerned, at least Oscar Wilde would give Nicholas right, when saying in his prologue of Dorian Grey’s Portrait:

Epidemiologi kurs Prof de Noli - 14

Being agree with Nicholas’ standpoints (I translated his article from DN-kultur 4 Feb 2015, below in this text), I would like however to draw a collateral focus on this other situation – related to the ideological/political stance of the artists AND their work:

Some works of art come to the attention of the public and/or catch the eye of the critic just because they were done by celebrities in the world of culture or politics. Yet we should asses their opus independently of the person, says Nicholas. Quite  right. In society’s reality, nevertheless, both public and critics would ground their appraisal on that celebrity-attribute.  Further,  in the cultural-reality, known (famous or infamous) works of art are indeed brought to life because of a political happening, hence because of the ideological stance of the artist.

My question being: Do we, could we, really disassociate Guernica from Picasso? Would the content of “Guernica” being what it is –if not being Picasso’s design? Would the master piece Guernica have existed without Guernica bombing?


Then we have the case Lars Vilks‘ “artistic production’, the very drawings that grounded the very first terrorist bomb-attack in Stockholm in 2010. As The New York Times referred, the terrorist’s recorded message gave specifically Lars Wilks’ deeds as one of the two motivations for his attack on the heart of the Swedish capital (the other reason given was the Swedish military occupation in Afghanistan, under US-command). The terrorist “pointed to continued anger in the Muslim world over his drawing”, says the NYT. The paper also points out that, “the furor surrounding Mr. Vilks, have contributed to a rise in tensions that have led to increased support for a right-wing anti-immigration party, the Sweden Democrats, which won 20 seats this summer in a general election.”

The discussion in Sweden around Lars Vilks’ art-work, as well in that debate’s current replica in the Swedish media over the Paris attacks, has been predominantly a ‘cultural-discussion’; or ‘philosophical discussion’, if so you like, when referred to “Freedom of Expression”. But in certain cases it has been merely an excuse to further forward an anti-immigrant discourse. The Professors’ Blog treats a different angle in defending Freedom of Expression, at “I couldn’t find words STRONG enough to legally blog away my CONTEMPT on the misuse of the Paris tragedy. So I just say: I am not Charlie“.

Well, well. In the future I’ll try to be observant in making distinctions properly, between ‘artist’ and ‘art-work’ that is. I am not kidding, Nicholas is right.

For my part, I’ll better be saying, for instance on the illustration above:

ON THE ONE HAND despicable cartoonist-provocateur Lars Vilks is a consummate NAZI, and ON THE OTHER HAND his drawings are a) awful, deprived of artistic quality, and b) an utterly expression of Racism and hate against Muslims.

/ Marcello Ferrada de Noli

Art-criticism is confounded in politics

DN: Art-criticism is not capable any longer of distinguishing between fantasy and reality, of uprightness and art. It writes Nicholas Ringskog Ferrada-Noli, who sees a dangerously politicised cultural-stance in our time.

Nicholas Ringskog Ferrada-Noli - DN 3 February 2015It is 2015 and the Swedish cultural life is more politicized than it has been in four decades. A work in music, literature, film or visual arts, is not evaluated first and foremost on the basis of its artistic qualities but from the implicit or explicit message that really communicates. It is also based on who is behind the work and his/her attributes. Nowadays, artists’ gender, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation and political views are at least as important as their art. Even those who write about arts and culture get called and judged in the same way.

Why is this wrong? For that there is a contradiction between the art world and the physical reality. Art inspired by reality, life, of by all that is known by the creator of a work of art. But when a work of art is created, it is separate from this person. Then belong to the world of art; it belongs to the audience, the reader, the listener. What culture-consumers meet is a work of art, it is not a human being.

Karl Ove Knausgård received criticism by Ebba Witt-Brattström for his protagonist in “Min kamp” oppresses his wife and this is wrong. He responds to this criticism in the essay “Literature and evil” and asks: should all literary life be exemplary? Should the cultural expressions be exemplary and aimed to followed? Knausgård notes that one of the novel’s most important characteristics is that it does create a distance between the “I” and the person who writes “I”. The intermingling of those leads to a confused and unjustified criticism: that which is criticized is not literature but the life that inspired the literature.

Content and messages is not the same thing. To depict the injustices and suffering is not saying, “I believe that injustice and suffering is good”, its is to say, “this exists”. And as Birgitta Trotzig wrote in “The self and the world” (Jaget och världen, 1977): “the dialogue with the unbearable, the insoluble, must not be interrupted.” Knausgård wonders about how he should have described his marriage in his novel in order to escape a criticism on sexism: the father of the family “has healthy values, healthy beliefs, he is for the good and against evil”.

Art that contains just wholesome, that is for the good, will be celebrated in today’s cultural climate. At the Royal dramatic Theatre is currently “≈ [about equal to]” by Jonas Hassen Khemiri, directed by Farnaz Arbabi, a piece with a clear message: economic injustice exists and it is wrong. It has stiff dialogue, flat characters, slapstick humour and a misplaced melodramatic ending. The social critique consists in a rain of cheap points and a little semi-serious hint of economic history. Why this performance became so acclaimed? Personally, I think it is because no one wants to be associated with the rejection of these sound opinions, and therefore not with a work that consists entirely of such. And a critic who is white and middle class and who criticise Khemiris and Arbabis piece can be accused of being a capitalist-loving racist.

There we end up in identity politics, one of the strongest trends amidst cultural criticism in recent years. Identity policy says: the most important thing is not what is said, what matters is who says it. Lidija Praizovic criticized in Aftonbladet (19/8, 2013) people from the white middle classes that outrage over that Rihanna forgiven and gone back to the man who abused her, Chris Brown. One is hence a racist if one is against such violence, if the one convicted for mistreating his girlfriend is African American. In the same newspaper complained Athena Farrokhzad (22/1/2014) that Yahya Hassan written poems depicting a Muslim man as unsympathetic and considered this poured gasoline on the Islam-phobic flames in Scandinavia – being Hassan a Muslim, he has an obligation to only depict good Muslims, was the gist.

And just recently criticized Valerie Kyeyune Backström (Nöjesguiden 29/1) journalist Kristoffer Viitas’ article on hiphopp’s current condition (Aftonbladet 23/1). Viita believed that what distinguishes the white rapper Iggy Azalea is not so much the cultural appropriating, but hiphopp’s new pop status and advanced marketing. Kyeyune Backström debunks the article, not because it would contain incorrect assessments about hip hop, but because Viita is disqualified from talking about cultural appropriating because he is white and “lacks any experience of something outside of lying on top. Therefore, the analysis becomes so flat, unreasonable, and uninteresting “.

Identity policy was challenged in Aftonbladet by Åsa Linderborg (7/11/2014).

She wrote hitting right on the spot: “A big problem with identity politics is that the ever more fervently blames and splinters. You should feel guilty for not taking part in the fight, while one is excluded of participating for not understanding how it is to be black, gay, transsexual, etc. ” But Linderborg refers to the relationship between identity-policy and the left, which is a different issue than the general politicisation of the art world.

We need to separate the artist from the artwork, we need to distinguish a work of artistic content from its possible message and, above all, we must distinguish goodness from artistic quality. I am not saying that there are no political dimensions in any culture. Nor am I saying that there is no positive and desirable to those who get space in the cultural and media coming from other groups than the white middle class. But art cannot be reduced to a political tool and a critic cannot be reduced to its descent. Such a climate does not encourage more voices, it scares into silence.

Nicholas Ringskog Ferrada-Noli

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