Is it possible to separate the art from the artist? Recent events in pop culture have brought up this discussion again. In early January, LifeTime premiered Surviving R. Kelly, a docu-series that explores the sexual abuse allegations that have come out against R. Kelly over the last 20 plus years. Despite these various allegations, R. Kelly's music career continued to thrive, even now. In the week since the documentary premiered, R. Kelly's Music sales have increased.“On-demand audio streams for the same period showed a 76 percent increase, with video streams increasing by 85 percent.” Then take rapper and producer, Kanye West. Over the years Kanye has said some pretty outlandish things. In 2018, the Rapper stated "when you hear about slavery for 400 years ... For 400 years? That sounds like a choice." Not too long after he released an album that charted number 1 on the billboard 200. Then there's everybody's fave, (or at least most people's fave) Drake. Recently an old video surfaced of then 23-year-old Drake grinding on stage with a concert goer, who he discovered was only 17 years old at the time. His response to that discovery? “I can’t go to jail yet, man!” then he asks the underage teen, “Why do you look like that? You think. Look at all this.” Now, type in Drake in google and it's as if this video never surfaced. Instead, people are focusing on the “Drake curse,” and wondering if The Weekend dissed him in a song. Smh.
Sadly, there are more examples that I could use but these examples show that some people are indeed able to separate the art from the artist but why is that? A friend of mine says he is able to separate the art from the artist because “I don't care to associate the two. Art is for me.” And perhaps it really is just that simple for some people. Others argue that the fact that someone did something problematic or wrong and created great art doesn't mean that we have to throw it all away, in fact, the two can coexist.
Those of us on the other side of the spectrum, however, argue that you can't separate the art from the artist. Further, every time you stream their music or buy their merchandise you are supporting both the art and the artist. Supporting the artist financially sends the message that they can continue their problematic behavior and face no consequences. Ever heard of the saying, hurt them where it hurts, their pockets? Well, there's a reason for that saying. We live in a capitalistic society where money talks. Sometimes lack of financial support can at least get the attention of the wrongdoer. Proponents of separating the artists from their art point out that the downside of “hurting” artists by not supporting them financially is that we sometimes get fake and insincere apologies. After all, you can’t force someone to see when their wrong or why they shouldn’t have committed a certain action. That is something to consider.
However, full disclosure, as an avid music listener and lover, I have no problem canceling an artist, even if said artist was Beyoncé for problematic behavior. For me, I can't forget, once I know you've done something that I deem to be problematic, I can't rock with you anymore. For example, I don’t listen or dance to R. Kelly’s music because when I hear it, I do think of the Black women and girls that have been sexually assaulted by him and once that thought is in my head, it’s hard for me to want to sing along or dance. For some people, their mind never goes there and thus they can still enjoy the art. Like the saying goes ignorance is bliss. Is separating the art from the artist the answer? Does viewing the art and the artist as one change anything? I guess only time will tell with examples like Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, Drake, and Harvey Weinstein. Let us know your thoughts on this topic in the comments below!