Don’t shame artists for the liberties they take

In case you missed it, Demi Lovato recently made tabloid headlines for her comments regarding a piece of fan art by self-taught Romanian artist Vladimir Serbanescu. The drawing in question depicts Lovato in a pose similar to the one she sports on her “Body Say” cover art, only this time reimagined as a mermaid.

Serbanescu took some liberties in the proportions of Lovato’s body — most notably, making the bosom larger.

After seeing the picture as it spread through social media, Lovato commented: “Is that how my boobs should look? It’s gorgeous, but that’s not my body.”

Lovato fans immediately started calling Serbanescu and his fans (who jumped to the artist’s defence after Lovato’s comments) out for body-shaming Lovato, who has had previous issues with eating disorders. The artist defended his portrayal by saying to Seventeen magazine, “I enlarged her breast just because I wanted her to lay on it and the posture of the body wasn’t allowing it, therefore the only solution was making them bigger.”

Now, I don’t really care about either Serbanescu or Lovato, at least not any more than I do about any other human who I’ve never known personally. (This level of care basically amounts to “Please have a good life and don’t fuck up anyone else’s in the process.”) But this is a conversation of art, creative licence, celebrity status, and what should and should not be allowed.

Both Serbanescu and Lovato make valid points. Serbanescu’s is that he created a piece of art in order to fit his artistic conception — which as an artist is fair, and even expected of him. Lovato meanwhile points out that it is her body, and the perceived slight of Serbanescu’s breast enlargement certainly doesn’t help the public’s perception of the female anatomy.

I get her point. But Serbanescu recreates celebrities as mythological creatures and spirits. It seems naïve to expect that, in this realm of mythology, the creatures would adhere to human ratios and standards — they aren’t human.

I’m not saying that this artist is Picasso, but in general, we hail Picasso for reimagining the distribution of bodily elements. I doubt the famed painter actually thought that our noses should be on our foreheads or that our eyes could just go wherever.

As a public figure, the unfortunate reality is that Lovato’s image is not her own. She cannot cultivate which artworks of her get shared with the world. Celebrities become part of the public realm in that sense, regardless of whether or not that should be the case.

Serbanescu tried to show his appreciation of Lovato by blending her image with that of a mermaid, another image which he enjoys. I don’t think he should be penalized or ostracized because of his creative choices. I think he did the best he could under the circumstances.

He saw that although she said the drawing was “gorgeous,” she was less than thrilled with how she was portrayed. He responded by saying that he never meant for his art to be taken as some kind of guide for what he thinks female bodies should look like.

Our Western culture’s perception of the female body and our idolization of a certain body type are deeply problematic, and they can lead to eating disorders, poisonous body image, and extreme social pressure to conform. That’s not in contestation, and I don’t wish any of that on someone. But it seems to me that Lovato may have taken this fan art misstep a bit too far.