Separating the art from the artist: Marian Bantjes

What do you do when the artist you love is, well, kind of a jerk? I always tell people that it's important to separate the art from the artist. I mean, if I had to like the personality of every musician, painter or designer as well as their art—I'd be in trouble (Woody Allen anyone?). So when I sat down to write this post about incredibly talented graphic design/calligrapher, Marian Bantjes, it's funny that I, myself, struggled with this very issue. I almost decided I couldn't talk up a person with such irritating self congratulation and general arrogance (as evidenced in the gobs of text she's written about herself on her website, the shameless namedropping as well as a presentation I saw her give at a conference). But the gals in the office reminded me that I had JUST told them to separate a particular artist from her art. And so here I bring you the talent that is Marian Bantjes.

For designers, the work of Bantjes is beloved for its organic, intricate and primarily typographic content. She has carved out a visual space that is uniquely hers and in which any imposters can be clearly spotted. While her main admirers seem to be designers (although she's done some mainstream campaigns for companies like—get ready for eye rolling—Saks Fifth Avenue), I'm certain that the warmth and intricacy of her work is something that people from any professional background could appreciate.


Typography (the art and technique of arranging type, type design, and modifying type glyphs), is definitely getting more and more appreciation by non-designers—just check what comes up with a search for 'typographic' over at 'the people's art shop' or half the options at popular t-shirt website Threadless. What makes Bantjes' type so special is that fact that she creates what almost amount to landscapes of type and pattern, interweaving the two so that there's no separation. Sure, she does digital work like all designers, but she gets away from her computer plenty, working with colored pencils, ball point pens, lace,—even sugar!


While the phrases she illustrates are often sweet or humorous, I do sometimes wish there was a little more meaning behind her work in general—especially since it seems much of it is self initiated (ie: not for commercial clients like the above-mentioned Saks Fifth Ave)—or at least that she has a goal to do more self initiated work. She does mention on her website that she is working on only one project right now and that it will take her a year to complete. Perhaps this is foray in to more substantive content? Designers don't often have the ability to choose their projects, but for Bantjes, who is a certifed graphic design rockstar (she makes this clear in her FAQ in which the question 'How do get your clients is answered: 'They come to me'), there's no doubt to me that she could lend her services to some amazing nonprofit groups or causes (this is, of course coming from a designer who adores working for Bitch magazine and takes on many nonprofit clients who can't pay what the big businesses can, but who I can feel really good about work for and with).

Whether she does start making more content-driven work or whether or not she takes on a more modest attitude, the fact remains that I love looking at, parsing and just getting lost in her work. That said, how to do YOU feel about separating art from the artist? TAKE THE QUIZ BELOW:



by Briar Levit
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6 Comments Have Been Posted

Ahh yes, Marian Bantjes

Ahh yes, Marian Bantjes definitely gets under my skin a bit.

I think the relationship between art appreciation and knowledge of the artist is pretty complicated. On an intellectual level, I don't care what artists are like in their personal lives, and I don't think it should affect how their work is perceived. When it comes right down to it, however, I can't help but have my experience of their work colored by what I know about them. Once I learn a bit about an artist, if I find out I can't stand them, I tend to twitch a little bit when I see their work. I can still appreciate it technically--so in Bantjes case I love looking at the details and musing about how her work process might go--but I find I'll walk away with a bad taste in my mouth, the same way I might after having a fairly innocuous conversation with someone I just don't like very much.

It's often quite subconscious and the reasons behind the feelings are possibly even imaginary; I have a vague impression, that I gained back in art school, of Jackson Pollock being a misogynist, selfish git, and to this day I can't look at his work without feeling just a little bit irritated. Probably not fair to the artist at all (it might be totally false, just a misunderstood memory), but I think it's part of the artistic experience. In my view, art is much more about what the viewer brings to it than what the artist intended anyway, so in that way it's still serving its natural purpose.

i don't agree

i think we all too often separate the artist from the art. that's why wife beaters become beloved actors, musicians, music producers.... maybe, and i stress that maybe, if our culture was not capitalistic. if art was physically detached from the people who made it, if people weren't supported for their art, maybe then it would be ok to separate the 2. but i don't see any reason to do this now. i have yet to find any art i really need to appreciate that is made by people i can't respect. which is not to say i don't enjoy jesse's girl and old james bond movies. i do. but i could definitely live without them.

i mean, it's different if someone is just annoying, or kind of a jerk. but so many artists are racist, classist, sexist, destructive that i just can't stomach the 'separating the artist from the art' mentality. it is so so so common, without people even thinking about it.

i can't appreciate a lot of stuff other people do, so maybe i have the wrong attitude. the rolling stones, for instance, make me want to kick some shins. but i certainly feel better taking artists into consideration when figuring out how to interpret their art.

It's definitely a question

It's definitely a question of their 'degree' of jerkiness, isn't it? For instance, I just can't look at Pete Townsend or Allen Ginsberg the same after what seem to be proven allegations of links to child porn rings. Of course, with the case of Bantjes, I just find her arrogance irritating and therefore it seeps in to my appretiation of her work sometimes.

I've just had 18 months of

I've just had 18 months of asking myself this question, focusing on the whole JT LeRoy/Laura Albert debate... and it's something that I still wouldn't be happy to give a definite answer to. Of course, there's a difference between the question of <i>authenticity</i> and the question of personality, but there are obvious links... I think it's unrealistic, and somewhat misses one of the beauties of artistic expression, to separate art from artist. Art's function as a communicator necessitates that we assume some sort of originator or at least inspiration. Part of why it gets us riled - with either positive <i>or</i> negative emotions - is that it connotes, in whatever abstruse way, an expression of an/some artist/s. We don't get aggrieved by natural sand dunes, even though they're beautiful, but we might have something to say about a photographic representation of them. I think the point I'm clumsily waddling towards is the idea that making art means someone has decided 'this is important' - and that, more than anything else, means we're bound to investigate that someone, to question their agenda. Whether or not that means I can't like T S Eliot I don't know....

art and the artist

We live in a consumer led culture. In general, in most countries, unless art has some commercial value it is not taken seriously (unfortunately). And, given the economic system, unless artists produce work of some commercial value they can't rely on their art to pay their bills. That said, as consumers we can choose who we give our money to, and because of this, it is difficult to separate the artist's work from the artist's viewpoints. For example, why would I buy an album from an artist that supported a political stance that I did not or was antagonistic to my views? Or, why would I support a painter that was antagonistic towards women, when there are so many female artists, producing just as good work/better who get little or no support?

While I'm very interested in

While I'm very interested in the questions you've posed here and can think of examples of artists I can't separate from their good art, I've personally never had an issue with Marian Bantjes. I've always admired her work, and to me her work falls in a niche (typography) I'm glad to see alive and sustained. Her site keeps me interested as she's one of the few artists who consistently talks about/shares her work process. Even if it's navelgazing, I personally AM interested in I'll keep reading. (And I have to say, I'm not sure she'd be happy that so many images of her work are bogarted here.) But, I've never had the opportunity of seeing/hearing her in person, and based on your reaction, I'm glad about that. I'd rather appreciate art based on my own personal reactions and ideas than be told by anyone, even the artist themself, why I should like it.

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