Art v. Artist

It’s not uncommon these days for celebrity scandals to become the center of discourse amongst fans and critics. R. Kelly is such a case when his history of abusing women was finally brought to the spotlight. Some refused to listen to anymore of his music to avoid financially supporting a predator, while others believe that his songs be enjoyed and considered separate from who he is.

The thing is, it makes more sense to keep consuming art apart from the creator than abandoning it altogether.

“Cancel Culture” describes the way people with offensive or inappropriate behavior are boycotted on social media for their actions. If we were to “cancel” any work of art from an unethical artist, then there’ll hardly be art left to enjoy. People are flawed--especially celebrities--and their work should be evaluated on their own merits apart from the artists. The creator’s feelings and actions don’t necessarily make their poem, music, visual art, or other media match their own integrity. A morally good person can produce awful works, and vice versa.

It’s also worth noting that mainstream art usually requires collaboration, from production to editing to publishing. Not everyone along the process was directly influencing the work, and may not have knowingly been involved with an abusive artist, ethics in the entertainment industry largely lacks enforcement. One way or another, we have consumed work touched by an unethical person. We have to acknowledge that artists and people working alongside them are humans capable of harmful ideology and actions as many of us are.

Sometime the artist’s corrupted character can become evident in their works, and former fans that can’t enjoy art as much anymore without associating the artist with it. In this case it makes sense for personal tastes to change from what makes you comfortable. Boycotting music and other media can be a personal decision, but it’s unlikely a systemic change will come through and impact the artist as others would intend.

“Canceling” an artist can only go so far.

While Kevin Spacey hasn’t been as involved in film projects since allegations of misconduct, Kanye West and his music are still very much popular in spite of his many controversies.

If the integrity of mainstream artists is concerning, then we can focus more on promoting other artists or make art ourselves. There are better and more efficient ways to implement social change and solve deeper problems in the entertainment industry that to simply avoid listening to an artist’s music.

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