Should Art Be Separated From The Artist?


Over the past few months, controversies involving artists like Kanye West have caused the resurfacing of an age-old question: should we separate art from the artist? The question at its simplest is a question of morality. Is it moral to continue listening to an artist’s music while fully aware of their wrongdoings? 

The exigence for this article is the actions of Kanye West, the Chicago rapper who is one of the most well known celebrities of our time. Recently, his disgusting anti-semitic comments have caused a swift fall from grace in the eyes of many. How can one ethically support someone who makes such disdainful remarks? 

Still, many continue to support West, because they enjoy his music enough to look past his controversies. Many fans have taken up the defense that “he made Graduation,” a reference to his acclaimed 2008 album. These diehard fans are not ready to take his songs out of their playlists.

I believe that this is a reasonable action that can be moral, but only when the listener can condemn the artist’s wrongdoings. The music may be important or comforting to the listener, something that they do not want to give up, and that is rational. But, it is a completely different story when the listener fails to hold the artist accountable for the sake of listening to music with a clearer conscience. It is unacceptable to say that art is separate from the artist as an excuse to support problematic artists.

Additionally, there are some cases where it is unethical to continue supporting an artist, especially when the music deals with the problematic topics. In Kanye’s case, his music does not contain the antisemitic themes that he has talked about. However, certain cases, like the one of R. Kelly, are irredeemable. After a documentary exposed the singer’s history of sexual abuse and pedophilia, long-time fans demanded that we separate his music from his actions. This demand is unreasonable, especially considering that some of his music talks about his disgusting desires. 

Although listening to the music can be moral, we must recognize that music is an extension of the artist themselves, a lens that reflects how they see the world. Henceforth, we cannot truly separate the art from the artist. We may try to disregard the connection between an artist and their music, but they will never be two separate items.

It is best to avoid going out of your way to listen to the music of problematic artists. However, if you acknowledge an old artist’s problems, there are still ways to listen without giving your financial support. Sites like Soulseek allow you to download music for free and transfer them to your streaming platform as local files. There are other ways to circumvent these payments, but at the end of the day, it is all a matter of personal preference. 

If we believe that art is separate from the artist, we invalidate the experiences and emotions that come together to create any work. We cannot pick and choose which should be separate without incidentally discarding the values of the hardworking artists who put their soul into their pieces.