Discussion: Can you separate the artist from their art?

In the wake of all the sexual assault/rape allegations coming out this year, I have found myself in a moral dilemma in regards to how I interpret and take in a piece of art. Whether we’re talking about The allegations and subsequent truths about Louis C.K’s sexual misconduct, or rape allegations towards The Gaslamp Killer, can we truly appreciate art without considering the actions of their creators?

On the one hand, it can be argued that there is no way to differentiate the art from the artist. Not only is context everything, but it is important to understand that the intention of the artist and their identity usually means everything to the art. The same mind that created an outstanding project also happens to have numerous sexual harassment claims against him. A recent opinion piece in The Guardian was titled ‘If you laugh at Louis CK now, you’re accepting his worldview.‘ In it, the author explains that “Comedian/actors like Louis CK aren’t playing characters, only exaggerated versions of themselves. They aren’t acting in stories: they are telling jokes that demonstrate their comedic worldview.” This is where things get complicated. Is Louie (the TV show) an expansion of Louis C.K’s character/persona or a mere act? It can be said, as mentioned in the Guardian article, that by enjoying or laughing at a certain piece of comedy, art, or whatever else it may be, you are in a way endorsing them as artists and giving them some form of credibility. This is why, as much as I love Louie (the tv show), I can’t help but think of Louis C.K’s recent truths, and that disconnects me from the art itself. Does this make Louie any worse of a comedy show? Not at all, but the discomfort of watching it now is always going to be present for me. I hope that makes some sort of sense.

The Gaslamp Killer was accused of raping two women back in 2013.

Of course, there is the counter-argument to this notion of a inevitable interconnectedness – art should be defined solely by itself, not by the actions of the artist, as heinous and appalling they may be. Outside influence, whether positive or negative, can be seen as a distraction from the quality of the product. Do the rape allegations against The Gaslamp Killer make his album any less valuable/good? His album Instrumentalepathy sounds the same before & after the allegations. The context may have changed, but the album still sounds the same, regardless. Bad/evil people can still make good art. We can go as extreme as Hitler with this example. One of the most evil human beings ever to have lived was a fairly talented artist. His dog paintings are incredibly valuable still today, going for hundred of thousands of dollars. Surely we cannot support or value the art from someone who is unquestionably evil. The question should remain whether or not context should be a determinant of how we perceive art. Should context influence our decision to participate in an artist’s work, and if so, where do we draw the line?

There needs to be a distinction between what we can accept from people and what we can’t. The line for me stands in the form of whether someone’s actions have a long-term, damaging effect on others or not. Arsehole behaviour and selfishness are traits common in human beings (we’re imperfect creatures after all). Not wanting to endorse the work of someone with a reputation of being a bit of an arsehole (Kanye West, for example), to me sets the standard pretty low. You may not agree with his egocentric nature, but he hasn’t sexually assaulted, raped or physically abused anyone (to public knowledge, anyway).

Art is what you make of it. I say that the quality of a piece of art should be the same regardless of the context of it and information surrounding the artist. Our responsibility comes from whether or not it is moral/ethical to support/endorse an artist’s work when they have committed unforgivable actions to others. We, as the audience, have the power to give those people a voice and a platform. As a result, you cannot fully separate the artist from their art. An artist’s persona and actions influence the context, thus outcome of their work. This is the beauty and curse of being human.

What do you think?

Hey everyone, thanks for stopping by. I run In Search Of Media with the aim of giving a platform to independent beatmakers, rappers and talented musicians. I also hope to make this a home for music discovery, interesting film analysis, exhibition reviews and other interesting content for all of you guys to dive in to. I hope to start a podcast and documentary-style project soon. If you're looking to be a part of this creative project, please go to the contact page and drop me an email, or connect via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. I also write for 'Music Is My Sanctuary.' Thanks 🙏

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