Supporting Problematic Artists And Their Arts, An Opinion

With reports of artists committing harassments, should you separate the art from the artist?An artwork by SAM Nasim/Flickr

As the world becomes swarmed by reports of famous artists – musicians, comedians, actors, painters – being alleged or in some case convicted of sexual harassment, or hold racist, homophobic, and sexist worldviews, the conversation on whether we should support the art that they produce or not has dominated public discussion in recent years.

With this kind of discussions, opinions are usually polarized – with people believing that the art is a separate entity from the artist and others considering the opposite. Most common of the arguments in support of the art-and-artists-are-separate-entities is the claim that it is possible to respect the art but not the artist.

But, this argument is problematic as problematic can get. In the first place, there is no such thing as separation between the art and the artist. They two always go together or as one.

A singer who released a song will always be ‘the artist who released the song.’ We have not heard of a song from an anonymous singer in the 21st century, have we? When an artist creates art, the art will automatically bear the artist’s name. In the same manner, the artist will always carry the art in him. To illustrate, you refer to the art as “I Believe I Can Fly By R. Kelly” not “I Believe I Can Fly By Anonymous.” There is no way that you can separate the songs of R. Kelly from him, one way or the other.

The “inseparable” narrative is a necessary message to send to the artist to make sure that they don’t use their power to abuse other people or to echo an anti-black sentiment. It has to be recognized that these artists have a platform to influence people, the more that we support the art that they do regardless of how bad or rotten their identities are, the more their platforms will thrive.

When Manny Pacquiao, the world’s best and most achieved boxer, was previously criticized by Filipinos for his homophobic remarks saying “gays are worse than animals.” While many criticized his statement, a lot of his supporters have invoked the separation of his entity as a politician from his existence as a boxer.

This is where the line should have been drawn. Manny Pacquiao became famous because of his boxing; and because of the social status he gained from being good at the sport, the world champion also earned a platform where he can reproduce his anti-gay agenda. Moreover, the reason why he is a senator in the Philippines right now is that people love him for being a man who brought honor to the country through his boxing wins, and not because he deserves to be a legislator or he has the actual merits to be one.

The support that the art gets from people empowers them. It gives them the money; it gives them the platform that they have now; it gives them power. And it is this same money, fame, and power that they use to commit their disgusting acts. Bill Cosby would not have been invited to a Playboy event to harass Chloe Goins if he was not “THE” Bill Cosby. R. Kelly would not have been able to meet the underage women he allegedly sexually abused if he did not have concerts.

In one way or another, supporting the art of a problematic artist makes you a complicit to the act.

Meanwhile, the case of dead artists is where everything becomes more complicated.

While dead artists will not have any material or financial gain from the art that they created when they were alive, supporting problematic dead artists will only immortalize them. And as they are celebrated, the trauma of their victims or the effect of their words will be memorialized with them. This is precisely why a conversation regarding putting down confederate memorabilia has been happening all over. When an ideology is celebrated even after the death of those advocating it, the effect will be the same as when they were alive.

The bottom line of this is simple: Artists and their art are a single entity. They cannot be separated. We as consumers of their art should be able to take a stand against their behavior and crimes as we are the ones who make them. It is our responsibility to tell them that they are wrong and we don’t tolerate their actions. One way of doing this is by dismissing their art and making them understand that actions have consequences. We have to make them realize that their art is powerless without us because power is us. /apr

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