August Riseponds: Separating Art and Artist

Riseponds is a monthly series where a group of Risen members are picked, not based on viewpoints, but solely through a "first come first serve" basis to speak on a topic that they're passionate or apathetic about. The randomness serves so readers can gain different viewpoints from different individuals with contrasting experiences.

This month, we’ve been thinking about separating art from its artist: can people still consume art/media without guilt when it was created by an artist who has done horrible things or is problematic?

Alexis: I think that art is a representation of the artist, first and foremost. Any statement that art makes is a statement that the artist believes in, so you cannot separate the artist from the art. However, nobody is perfect. All artists and therefore all art will have flaws and problems. Trying to consume media of any kind that doesn’t upset somebody in some way is impossible: the line between ‘upsetting’ and ‘genuinely problematic’ is different for everyone, so pay attention to what people say, but take it with a grain of salt. Be the judge of what media you consume and enjoy what you want, but don’t forget to acknowledge that it isn’t perfect. It’s okay to acknowledge something’s flaws while still enjoying it.

It's important to note though, that using the separation of art and artist as an excuse to shamelessly support abusers, homophobes, and generally bad people doesn't mean that consuming that media is okay. It means that you support to the people who made it, no matter what you say to the contrary.

Adele: When bringing up this subject, I dread hearing the “separate the art from the artist” spiel. From my experience, those who uses this argument are either 1) not artists themselves and/or 2) are accepting of said problematic behaviour/actions. I wouldn’t exactly call myself an artist, as I don’t create art consistently, but I understand that art is an expression of yourself. Some people are more blunt than others in their medium, but I still believe that even making something “pointless” calls into who you are. You can, however, acknowledge the flaws of said person while consuming their art. In the age of “Your Fave Is Problematic” and call out culture, it can be hard to enjoy anything, but acknowledging that what the artist did or said was wrong is always a better option than ignoring or attempting to minimize/ridicule the issue. The thing about being “problematic” is that it is inherently human to be so. Nobody’s perfect.

I also feel like it’s important to add that deeming someone as “problematic” doesn’t mean that you necessarily need to cut them off. I know personally that there are a few artists who have been deemed “problematic” that I don’t support personally but I will still consume their art in some way. Sometimes that means listening to their albums or admiring their film work or photography. But it also isn’t necessarily bad for you to literally cut them out. There are a few musical artists that I’ve loved in the past, where I stopped consuming their art and following them as a person because I couldn’t forgive their actions. Personally, if an artist I like says or does something that is homophobic (and/or: lesbophobic, biphobic), transphobic, antiblack, racist, ableist, etc., and makes no effort to genuinely apologize for it, then I make no effort to support them in any way.

Vivian: Personally, I think separating the art from the artist is not necessarily a negative thing as long as the art is not an expression of, and has no ties to, the artist’s ideals. For example, if this artist is an actor, I think you should be allowed to admire their acting skills even without agreeing with their worldviews or even liking them as a person. However, it is also important to not idolize an artist and defend them regardless of their wrongdoings. We should recognize their respective talents without putting them on a pedestal. People, even those we look up to, are not always in the right or without determining faults. That being said, I find it hard to admire an artist after learning of their “problematic” ways/behaviours. For example, Tim Burton’s whitewashed cast has caused me to lose respect for him as a director because a director’s decisions do tie in with the way they present their art and their opinions. But behaviour may not always be involved with an artist’s respective craft. In other words, we need to be careful when judging an artist’s behaviour and determine for ourselves the line between actions that can be outweighed and those that cannot. Mostly, we need to remember that artists are human and make mistakes too, but it’s important to separate mistakes from detrimental actions.

Tyler: In my experience, separating the art from the artist has always been something I’ve done. I wrote an article recently about whether or not black women can truly like rap music because of the fact that so much of it is based on the tearing down of their identities. I spoke about the fact that in the black community, we are raised to like certain musicians and that they can do no wrong because we place their songs on such a high pedestal. We ignore any problematic things artists have done in order to keep them in the culture. I don’t think in today’s society people are able to consume media from problematic artists without backlash. Oftentimes I do feel guilty for liking some of the music I do. For example, I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that musician R. Kelly is a bad role model and very problematic in his ways. However I cannot deny that I know the words to his songs and sing them when they come on because these are the songs I grew up listening to. I think that if you know right from wrong and can recognize that an artist is problematic then separating the art from the artist is fine.