Should Art be Separated From the Artist?

What is art? Many would argue that art is the creative expression of one’s views of the world. That art, while basically undefinable, demonstrates a point of view, a commentary, or some form of analysis about the world around us. As art is an artist’s interpretation of the world, it is impossible to fully separate art from the artist. In the same way that it is important to be mindful of the artist’s background and upbringing when consuming their work, considering the artist’s moral standing is equally relevant. Art is inherently linked to the artist, and to separate it from its artist is to separate the art from all nuance.

In the age of the #MeToo movement, much controversy has been raised over the work of problematic artists. Those in the fight against sexual assault have been asking themselves how to ethically go about their lives while still enjoying art. From Louis C.K. to XXXTentacion, it has been revealed that far too many of the creators of society’s music, literature, and visual art have links to sexual assault.

Even if it was possible to look at art completely free from nuance, in a capitalist society, consumption of said art benefits the artist. Listening to Kanye’s music directly helps maintain Kanye’s power, as it gives him more money as well as the basis to create more music. If we are to say that people should lose their jobs over sexual assault, as so many politicians, business people, and TV personalities have, then why not artists? Artists can’t just lose their job in the same way, as they can’t be “fired” from creating art. Even if they can be fired by their publisher or record label, they are still able to make and produce art. Essentially, we as consumers are their employers, and by continuing to consume their art, we are sustaining their jobs. We are the ones deciding not to “fire” these people, despite knowing their wrongdoings.

By listening to XXXTentacion while he was alive, his fans were helping to uphold a system of normalized sexual assault. A system where a known sexual predator is able to keep his job, fame, and livelihood, without real repercussions. A system where a victim of sexual assault has to witness praise of her abuser. While listening to XXXTentacion posthumously doesn’t directly give money to an alleged sexual predator as it did during his lifetime, the consumption of his music still upholds his legacy and forces his victim to endure veneration of her perpetrator.

It’s difficult to simply cancel problematic artists, especially in a time when it seems like so many artists can be linked to something questionable. Yet, maybe if artists saw there were actual repercussions for their actions, sexual assault wouldn’t be as ubiquitous in these industries.

Yes, you will lose the insight shared in their art if you stop consuming art by these artists. But in the long run, what is more important: one person’s insight, or helping to dismantle systematic acceptance of sexual abuse?
By Emily Axelrod