Can you separate Art from the Artist?


Brinly Johnson, Editor

Everyday it seems as if a new celebrity is being exposed as a person who does not deserve the following they have gained. The up and coming star of the popular Netflix show Wednesday, Percy Hynes-White, being accused of sexual assault or the prominent country star Morgan Wallen saying a racial slur in public after celebrating his album’s success, we cannot avoid the cancellation of those we love. These situations have brought up a popular question among those who would like to still support the art these artists have made, can we separate art from the artist? 

The cancellation of artists does not only bring up the question of separation of art vs artist, but are they forgivable? Michael Jackson was a very celebrated and beloved artist of the 1980s and 1990s. Jackson won many prestigious awards and was charitable with the profits made off tours and album sales. Over the decades of working in the industry, Michael had created a very large and loyal fanbase. A bombshell hit the magazine stands in 1993 with Michael Jackson’s first child sexual assault accusation. Michael was accused of inviting young boys into his home and attempting or succeeding in committing sexual acts on them. Jackson was able to escape these accusations by the police finding no proper evidence against Michael or his estate. The second round of accusations came in 2003 with Michael Jackson being arrested for child molestation. After going to court in 2005, he was acquitted of all charges after some of the former young men went on the stand in Michael’s defense. Many years later in 2019, those same young men would go public again to retract their statements and reveal themselves as victims. Knowing all of this, could you still listen to “Thriller” or “Billie Jean” in good conscience? Can we as a society forgive him and continue to still enjoy his work?

Not wanting to support someone who has done something bad sounds good in theory, but how do we realistically achieve that? Are we supposed to immediately change or turn off the station if a Michael Jackson song were to turn on, or if the book club you joined happened to pick Harry Potter as their book of the month, or if you are desperately in some need of food and Chick-Fil-A was just about the only place with food you could afford, what do you do? Do you stay aligned with your morals and avoid problematic things or do you pretend that those who did wrong didn’t? Walmart is an affordable shopping hub that is very popular among all financial classes of America. Many CEOs of Walmart have been accused of actions that do not align with the morals of many of those who shop at their stores. Now say you are a person who cannot afford to shop at other stores but you don’t agree with what the higher ups at Walmart have done. There is no realistic way for you to no longer shop there. This situation causes a moral dilemma within the person deciding what to do and what feels right. 

There is also another caveat to the question of whether or not we should support artists who have committed unethical behavior: What about those who contributed to the art? The main artist isn’t the only one who worked on the creation. There are sound mixers, writers, editors, and so many more who advance the creative endeavors. What do we do about them? They also put blood, sweat, and tears into the project so why should we not support them? They deserve it just as much as the artists themselves. While the art is an extension of the artists, there isn’t only one artist in the conundrum. The art is also theirs. It is not only the face of the art’s work, it is also the thousands of tiny men below who worked just as hard and deserve recognition. 

Separating the art from the artists is a tricky question that has no one correct answer. Someone’s actions may not feel as hurtful to one as they may feel to another. Some actions deserve hate and others don’t. There are so many hypotheticals to each situation with reasons as to why they made the decisions that they did. The only answer one can give is to give your support out through your own prerogative and decide for yourself whether or not they deserve your adoration.