Should You Separate The Art From The Artist?

If you’re an avid Twitter user like me, you’d have noticed DaBaby making the news back in July, receiving a lot of backlash for the homophobic comments he made during Rolling Loud Miami. This led to a massive uproar as internet mobs rose up to cancel him and his music. He was dropped by major sponsors and was taken off the headliner list for countless music festivals.


Now Dababy isn’t the first artist to be punished in this fashion. Chris Brown, Marilyn Manson, R. Kelly, XXXTentacion, and the list goes on. The movement threw a spotlight on contemporary cases of artists harassing those in their power. Even J.K Rowling has been cancelled for making transphobic comments, and now people are condemning Harry Potter—a series that defined most of our childhoods. Now the question isn’t if these people should be held accountable for their actions or not.


The question is should the art suffer?


Quite a few of Picasso's paintings were offensive and showed unspeakable acts being inflicted on women. This doesn't necessarily make him a bad person but if one cannot separate art from the artist then  it does raise questions about his morals. Needless to say Picasso would have been cancelled on Twitter in this day and age. Should artistic expression be subject to ethics and morals? Or should it be completely free?

Picasso was a misogynist, and his paintings depicted horrifying acts being inflicted on women, Elvis earned millions appropriating black culture, John Lennon abused his wife and children, Plato was a pedophile. The contribution of these men to society has been remarkable, but that does not mean we exempt them from their actions. But on the other hand, if we started boycotting the art of all of these wrongdoers, half of our galleries and museums would be empty. Artists are flawed just as all humans inherently are. They are not free from the prejudices of their culture or from faults of character.


One way to look at this would be to view the artist just as a medium for the consumption of art. More often than not, their actions are completely separate from the art they put out. But there is a contradictory perspective of ‘Life imitates art, and art imitates life.’ An artists’ personality and thought processes will inevitably be expressed through their work. An eerie example would be—Virginia Woolf often wrote of suicide, and this was how she ended her life, as did Hemingway and Sylvia Plath.


Undoubtedly an artist’s personal life does influence the way we view their art. The life of the artist only adds to the conversation about the piece of art. Think of Ellen Degeneres, a stand-up comedian, and a television show host. But when we think of Ellen, we also think of her as an LGBTQIA+ icon. It becomes quite difficult to separate these two facets of an artist’s life.


The main issue with separating art from the artist is that despite committing these transgressions, if an artist’s work is as popular as it was before, it may seem like it’s ‘okay’ for these individuals to behave in such a manner and they can ‘get away with it’ because of their fame and influence.


Of course, these artists must pay their dues and cannot be let off the hook but with platforms like Twitter providing the anonymity that it does to its trolls creates an environment where one misstep can lead to the downfall of one’s whole career.


Understandably, supporting the work of artists whose actions are so morally reprehensible weighs heavy on one’s conscience. But one must make the discretion between cancelling artists for actions that are truly deplorable or for merely having views that are disappointing. Cancelling, on a mass level, rarely works. We as individuals have to decide where to draw lines. We need to question if not dancing to Dababy’s music is just self-serving and performative or if we’re actually making a difference.


Every day we commit actions that are morally questionable. We use plastic; we purchase clothes from fast fashion companies like H&M and Urbanic; we like Elon Musk’s tweets, to name a few. Amidst all of this, how do we establish ourselves as ethical consumers? How does one reconcile aesthetic pleasure with moral disgust? A natural solution would be to find better idols to replace our current flawed ones—an ideal although highly impractical solution.


Our media consumption should be mindful and deliberate. One must carefully understand the nature and severity of a crime and act accordingly. Defending an artist’s work is fair, but blindly worshiping an artist and dismissing victims' claims is an excellent example of a line one must not cross.