WARNING: Art May be Damaged

A few weeks ago, Kanye West was in the White House wearing a MAGA hat and hugging Donald Trump saying, “I love this man.” The week before that, West tweeted how the 13th amendment needed to be abolished. Two months before the tweet, he said in a TMZ interview that “slavery was a choice.” The self-described, “best living recording artist” has turned problematic. His actions and words are offensive, ignorant and dangerous.

Credit: New Yorker

So the question arises, should we stop listening to the classic album “Graduation” because of West’s actions or should we separate his art from his Tweets and rants?

Many believe that art should be consumed as it is, that the product should be all that is thought about. The actions of the artist behind the strokes, lyrics, camera or joke should be put aside when listening to a song, watching a movie, or browsing a museum. Some believe that to sacrifice good art just because of the poor choices of the creator would be wasteful.

Separating the two might be easier when the artist is not visible but can be a challenge with other art forms. For example, separating a singer from their song is hard to do since it is their voice, and separating a movie from an actor is hard to do if they are the main character. The more presence of an artist, the harder we have to work to separate the art from the artist. So, why not just stop? The answer many give— for the sake of the art.

From the late 90’s until recently, fans of R. Kelly fought hard for separating art from the artist.

The R&B singer and alleged pedophile is an example of how dangerous it can be when we allow a separation to happen. The first underage survivor came forward accusing R.Kelly of assaulting her when she was 14 in 1996. Thus, began a continual trail of accusations against Kelly. In recent news, he has been accused of having a cult of young aspiring female artists.

Credit: youtube 

Despite allegations for over two decades, “Ignition (Remix)” and “I Believe I Can Fly” are still being played at Bar Mitzvahs and Frat parties. Kelly’s actions and his art were always separated because no one wanted to think about a man who sleeps with underage girls while jamming out to "classics," but maybe they should. If they did, maybe there would have been fewer victims, maybe he would have been held more accountable, maybe his success would have stopped and maybe a better artist could have risen to fame with better art.

Separating art from the artist is an irresponsible way to consume art because it supports and encourages problematic artists to continue to be, well, problematic.

Yes, good talent should be recognized but actions should also be recognized. Wrongful actions should rightfully taint good art and make it un-enjoyable for viewers. No song or movie is worth the expense of someone else's pain.

Credit: Pablo Picasso

For example, if Picasso beat his wife his paintings could still be thought of as good art, but there should be no special galleries for him. Or expansive auctions or awards for him. He should be labeled as an abuser before an artist. His success should reflect that. His skill should be recognized but not praised. A line has to be drawn to set an example for other artists to come. Abusing women, or hurting people in general, will and should negatively affect success.

If the art of a problematic artist is consumed before the art of a non-problematic artist it shows how low the expectations and values we put on artists are.

Credit: Netflix

Recently, Kevin Spacey was accused of sexually assaulting a young actor. Spacey was one of the first artists to be faced with consequences from the industry itself. The Netflix show, House of Cards, which he starred in, fired him immediately. The movie All The Money In The World replaced Spacey’s character and reshot most of the movie. He tainted the film and rightfully so. Preventing him from making more art is a great first step, but there will still be people watching American Beauty -- and they shouldn’t because it fuels the chances of Spacey making his way back into the industry.

Spotify attempted to prevent problematic artists from continuing their success. In May of 2018, Spotify created a public hate content and hateful conduct policy in regards to their curated playlists. Spotify removed R.Kelly songs and XXXTentacion, an abusive rapper, from all of their playlists.

In an interview with Billboard magazine, Jonathan Prince, the VP of Spotify said, "When we look at promotion, we look at issues around hateful conduct, where you have an artist or another creator who has done something off-platform that is so particularly out of line with our values, egregious, in a way that it becomes something that we don't want to associate ourselves with.”

The online music streaming platform was met with great criticism from fans and even other artists who demanded things to go back the way they were. Spotify gave in to public opinion and took away their hate content and hateful conduct policy. It was easier, for all parties involved, to continue separating the music from the disgusting actions of the artist rather than listen to another song.

 

A good song, film or piece of art have been put before those hurt, abused and disrespected by the artist. These artists become “untouchable” and an example for another artist that no matter what they do, as long as they create something people like, they can continue to harm. Separating the art from the artist is a selfish, lazy and dangerous way to consume art.

 

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