Should you separate art from the artist?
Should you separate art from the artist?
“Should we separate art from the artist?” is a problematic question that arises again and again whenever a controversial artist comes up in the news cycle. It’s a problem that doesn’t have a clear-cut answer. Unfortunately, there are far too many examples of great writers, painters, musicians, and filmmakers who have committed morally reprehensible acts in the past, so much so that it would be nearly impossible to list them all off.
At the same time, it’s easy to forget that these artists are only human and a product of their place and time to some degree. Sometimes this means that flawed creatures can be placed by their fans into positions of power and influence.
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It isn’t new that artists can be problematic, but living in the Age of Information, knowing everything we know, are we obligated to do better? The issue with attempting to answer such a question is that all you seem to get in return is more questions. The only way to find any kind of answer is by looking at the facts of the artist and finding your interpretation.
Kanye West is a great character study when discussing the question of separating art from the artist, especially now that Kanye has returned to cultural relevance yet again with the recent news of his divorce to Kim Kardashian becoming official. Kanye is one of the most controversial artists in the world: hated by so many and beloved by just as many and more. And of course, “nobody loves Kanye more than Kanye”.
I have a deep respect for Kanye West as an artist. But I don’t know how much I can respect him as a man. He’s undoubtedly egotistical and cocky, although some might say rightfully so. His music can be charmingly reflective of the struggles of African Americans, or it can be outlandish and cruel to that same demographic by making comments like ‘slavery was a choice’ or by supporting the racism perpetuated by Donald Trump and his political base.
Kanye West is the perfect artist to consider when asking to whom does art truly belong? Is the work from old Kanye stained red by his MAGA hat? I don’t think so, because I don’t think Kanye’s music belongs to him anymore: it belongs to his audience.
Kanye’s troubled life has inspired so many creative pieces of music; all the good in his life and the bad have culminated in him having this unique yet destructive mind. But just because the art is, in essence, a reflection of the artist’s mind doesn’t mean that it solely belongs to him. If you’re a fan of Kanye’s “Power” because it gives you motivation when you need it most, I believe that song belongs to you as much as it does Kanye. No matter what happens, nothing Kanye does can take that away.
But we must also come to terms with the fact that good art doesn’t justify the actions of its creator. This is where separating art from the artist becomes most important. For example, Richard Wagner revolutionized the opera with his beautiful symphonic approach, yet was a prolific anti-Semite and a personal favourite of Adolf Hitler. Just because an artist can create something great, doesn’t mean that they’re entitled to do what they like!
That’s where we return to Kanye West. Although I’m not exactly comparing him to Wagner, Kanye’s recent works are beginning to leave his fanbase divided. His musical journey follows a new path, as he publicly comes to terms with his mental health, particularly his diagnosis of bipolar disorder. His recent works still have the same lovable cockiness, but for me and many other fans, it has become difficult to support his delusions of grandeur, when we know they come from a place of illness, not strength.
We don’t quite know what Kanye has up his sleeve regarding the future of his music, but I do know that whatever it is, it’ll be different and in turn divisive, but that doesn’t mean we should reject it outright. If we did so, that would probably say more about us than the work itself. Good art should start a discussion, not confirm everything we already believe in.
Today more than ever, people’s ethics, views and actions exist under the all-seeing eye of the internet. When a celebrity scandal breaks, it doesn’t take long before everyone’s opinions of the person can change for the worse and people have to choose between the artist and their own morals. Only you can decide how much of the past has been tainted by what is revealed in the present.
Just to conclude, there’s no definitive answer to how we should go about consuming art, but I agree that art should be separate from the artist. This way, we can respect good art without respecting the creator, and we can appreciate the creator even if his art is bad.