When I was a sophomore, I was a big fan of the rap group Brockhampton. I loved their first three albums, known by fans as “The Saturation Trilogy, they were one of the first bands that made me appreciate newer music and would be a much different person if I never discovered their music. But, in the summer of 2018, allegations were made against one of the members Ameer Vann which eventually lead to him being kicked out of the group. Not only was Vann an integral part of the band, he was the face of these albums that meant so much to me, appearing as the sole face for all three albums.
The Ameer Vann situation was the first time I had to question whether I can still support an artist that had allegations of sexual misconduct. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many people have had similar questions on artists they enjoy. The #MeToo movement not only exposed people like Kevin Spacey and Louis CK but also reignited public backlash against men like Michael Jackson and R Kelly. This leaves the question whether a person can separate an artist from their work.
On one hand, the idea that you can separate an artist from their work greatly ignores ideas of artistic expression. A big influence on an artist’s work is their personal life and their belief which in turn influences their art and subject matter. While this is not always the case, there have been instances where an artist’s problematic behavior is exhibited in their work. For example, Louis CK in his stand up joked a lot about being sexually frustrated as well as his perversions. While edgy yet innocent at the time, these jokes took on another meaning when he was discovered to be engaging in sexual misconduct.
Despite this, saying that all artists should be completely bound to their work and everything in their work reflects them as a person is wrong. Just because an artist is a terrible person oftentimes that does not take away from a person’s enjoyment of their work. This can be due to a number of factors including the severity of the crime, relationship with the piece before finding out what they did, the artist’s overall effect on media as a whole, etc.
It is also important to discuss the severity and how thev have changed since. Something like a political difference or a joke they told and regret years later is different from comiting crimes like sexual assault.
With all this in mind, whether you can or can’t separate art from the artist is very complex and can not be answered with a simple yes or no. The best thing people can do is judge it on a case by case basis. Art and people are not a monolith and what may be problematic or not a big deal to you is different from other people. Inform yourself about the situation and ask if it greatly affect your personal enjoyment as well as whether their art reflects their problematic beliefs and past crimes.
For me personally, I can listen to a singer like David Bowie who had a history of sexual misconduct with underage fans. But at the same time, I refuse to watch a Woody Allen movie or listen to artists such as XXXTentacion or Tekashi 69. While these artists committed similar crimes, my personal beliefs that the people’s crimes do not influence their art to a large degree allows me to give some problematic artists a pass while refusing to listen to others.