Can an Artist Be Separated From the Art?

Staff writer discusses cancel culture in the music industry

The debate on whether we should separate the artist from the art has been a contentious issue in the world of entertainment and music; especially in the last few years with the rise of cancel culture.

On one hand, some argue that the actions and behaviors of an artist should not be conflated with their artistic creations, as art should be appreciated independently for its merit and value.

But others believe that an artist’s personal conduct and moral character should be taken into consideration when evaluating their work, even more so when the artist has a financial gain from the art consumption.

If the artist is to be separated from the art, to what extent must the artist be separated? Without a doubt there is a wide range of offenses committed by “canceled” artists, ranging from offensive language to violent felonies, so where is the line drawn?

Famous rapper Kanye West, priorly known for his criticism of systemic oppression in his album College Dropout, is now facing widespread backlash for statements of racism and antisemitism that largely conflict with the lyrics of his earlier work.

Some argue that his earlier music should still be enjoyed regardless of his actions because the creative value outweighs his current character. It has also been argued that he has privilege over other artists due to his talent and that his music is just too good to be canceled compared to his offense.

While West’s scandal received immense coverage in the media—Playboi Carti’s recent domestic abuse case has been less known and less discussed. On December 20th, Carti was accused of choking and beating his pregnant girlfriend during an argument about a pregnancy test. A witness then intervened and attempted to de-escalate the violence.

Carti was able to pay the $100,000 bail and is still walking free and creating music (Noah McGee, The Root). Playboi Carti has received much less criticism and almost no loss of his fan base compared to Kanye West, whose offense was much less severe. This shows that consumers have been somewhat picking and choosing when “separating the art from the artist” is applicable and convenient.

The issue with Playboi Carti’s situation is that his actions aren’t the only problem. His music contains lyrics that references and implications of beating and assaulting women. These lyrics have always been brushed aside until they manifested into reality, and now the music industry and his fans are choosing to turn a blind eye.

Now without a doubt, this behavior is unacceptable, and most people would stop associating themselves with someone they knew personally if they were to do these things, but for fans who have no actual connection to these artists, is it immoral for them to continue supporting and listening to their music?

One might argue, yes, because by streaming the music, attending live events, or purchasing merchandise that person is being continually supported financially and rewarded for their behavior, and the fan is directly contributing to that reward.

However, taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, these artists are already filthy rich, and will always have die-hard fan bases no matter what they do. Therefore, whether you as an individual keep listening to their music, doesn’t actually make an impact.

Additionally, it can be argued that the responsibility of the crime shouldn’t be a burden to be carried by the fans. An average music listener should be able to enjoy any song, as long as the artist of that song is taking accountability for their conduct, or facing the punishments for it (even though that’s rarely the case).

More often than not, listeners discover songs and attach emotions and memories to them without thinking of the artist at all, only to later discover that the artist is a bad person. That person should have a right to enjoy that song for their own personal meaning without the actions of the creator being tied to it.

There are so many sides to this argument, and it’s nearly impossible to define which situations call for the separation of artist and art. Whether or not one stops listening to an artist based on their conduct depends on one’s own values and how closely one relates to the music they listen to.

As long as Carti choking his girlfriend doesn’t inspire you to commit your own act of assault, then your personal interpretation of the art can, in fact, be separated from the artist.