Art vs Artist – Is It Possible to Separate The Two?

Written by Jenna Dreisenstock

Artwork Credit: Unknown

(As always, please let us know if you know the artist so we can add in their credit!)

Often we’re quick to forget that creators in the public eye – those we admire, whether they be writers, directors, artists or musicians; are flawed human beings, just like ourselves. It’s easy to be taken over by the glitz and glamour of a pubic personality, especially if they are the creators part of a culture in which we so heavily immerse ourselves. This infallibility we conceive to those whose creations have perhaps moved us or engulfed us with joy is a difficult mindset to break away from. When upsetting facts emerge that those who have helped sculpt a culture that we love and feels like home to us; that shock, that immediate shattered perception of infallibility – for many of us, it can be heartbreaking.

With the birth of the #metoo movement last year – after the horrific allegations against director Harvey Weinstein broke into the mainstream after so many years of secrecy: media, art and pop-culture has changed significantly within such short space of time. As more and more womxn took to social media and shared their stories, out of tragedy rose something so strong: a solidarity between womxn all over the world, from different religions, classes, races and sexual orientations, that subconscious connection we share, the struggles we all go through became evident to us all. I feel as though, since that moment womxn (who are able to, mostly more prominent womxn) have been sharing the intimate details of their horrific experiences with not only male directors – but actors, photographers, artists and of course – musicians. Ever since then – new allegations of sexual assault began to appear in the public eye almost every single day. Even now, months later – they continue to break forth at an alarming rate. To feel as though these men are finally being held accountable for their terrible actions – let’s just say, what a good feeling that is. Seeing these artists being forced to accept responsibility for criminal behaviour is justice their victims perhaps never thought they would see. That begs an answer to a very serious question however – is it possible to separate an artists creation from who they are as a person?

This is, of course, a complicated subject, with many different perspectives weaving into an uncomfortable grey area. An easy example would be to look at classic literature, in which the authors celebrated at the time were actually, for lack of better words, pretty terrible people. A product of their time? A question for another time perhaps. Yet, does this mean we can no longer enjoy the works of these authors? With the thought of Orwell as a homophobe as a queer womxn, and the obvious racism of Plath as a Jewish womxn: I find myself in that uncomfortable grey area – both authors produced some of my favourite pieces of literature. A product of their time? Not an excuse, but perhaps a relevant question for another time. A critical examination of this topic is required to come to any conclusions. I honestly don’t know how to feel.

But what of those in our present day culture?

When it comes to music, barely anything is able to evoke the type of emotion and experience it brings to our lives. For many of us, sometimes especially to those of us who are musicians ourselves; the admiration we feel toward those who have created something so integral to our lives can border on pure, wholesome gratitude. As a young teen, there was a band whose frontman I admired more than anything – I was struggling, and it felt as through his lyrics, along with the band’s sound made me feel less alone. Their music helped me a lot through my teen years. A few months ago, I unlocked my phone to find a news bulletin pop up in which he had been accused of the sexual coercion of a minor and the victim had come forward. I felt sick. The songs that had always comforted me as an angsty teen now felt as though they had warped into something else entirely. The music hadn’t changed, I still knew the words off by heart. I still knew the guitar chords to one of my favourite songs of theirs. I had played it a million times. The rest of the band and supporting acts backed out of their tour at the time, and I couldn’t help but feel bad for the members who may have never even known. However those same songs that comforted me – brought on panic attacks for one of the victims whenever she heard them, recalling her trauma. That to me was something I could not stop thinking about.

Would it ever be possible for me to enjoy their music again? I don’t really know. I remember feeling nostalgic a few months back and I listened to an old song of theirs. It was a weird experience, because it felt comforting in my nostalgia. Yet hearing his voice and lyrics again, just didn’t sit right with me. I felt anxious. As I said above, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Do I believe it’s possible to separate an artists creation with the artist themselves? I would say it is possible – albeit uncomfortable. Yet the most important aspect to focus on in our present day is – even if we still enjoy their creations, we need to hold every single offender accountable for their actions. With that being said – there are many musicians too, who may have not committed any crimes yet are very evidently awful bigots. Does that mean we should refuse to ever listen to their music again?

I personally don’t think so, however understanding we have to hold these creators responsible for what they say or do is integral: it’s definitely possible to enjoy a piece of media while still having very valid criticisms that need to be called out and brought to attention of the public as to de-normalize such bigoted behaviour. Another way necessary to hold bigoted musicians accountable – refusing to support them with your cash. Ditch the live shows. As cool as their merch may be, there is cooler merch out their with musicians names you’d actually want to promote with your clothing choices. Thinking of buying one of their vinyls? Stream instead. It’s upsetting, truly. However in order for us to truly say that we can seperate the art from the artist – in our present day money fuels support, support normalizes bigotry and oppression: and we find ourselves at square one.

By the way, the band I was referring to above that I loved as a teen is Brand New and disgusting frontman Jesse Lacey. This is a reminder to hold everyone responsible, regardless of the positive influence their creations may have had on our lives.

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