Opinion: Art versus the artist

Can one be separated from the other?


Priya Harry

Maximilian Pajonk, Guest Writer

 Famous artists such as Salvador Dali, Pink Floyd member Roger Waters and Kanye West have made antisemitic comments and actions, yet their art is still close to many people’s hearts. This begs the question: can we separate the things artists produce from their harmful personal beliefs?

The truth is that we can only separate the art from the artist up to a certain point. If we listen to an artist’s music or buy their artwork, we are funding that artist, which means that we are indirectly endorsing their ideas and giving them a platform to speak on and an audience to hear them. Despite some arguing that Spotify pays only $0.0033 per stream, the money adds up before you know it. For example, the rapper Drake has made around  $52.5 million from Spotify streams

The effects of this can also extend to radical groups taking action against specific groups of people. For example, after Ye made antisemitic statements, a group of protesters hung banners on an overpass on the 405 Freeway that supported his remarks and spread hate of Jewish people. The group of people then stood behind the banners and did a Nazi salute. These actions by hateful groups caused many Jewish families and groups to be scared for their well-being. 

Artists also have a responsibility to set a good example for their followers. Because of the influence they have on people, these artists need to be conscious of their statements and decisions in order to not lead their fans down the wrong path. The situation with the protesters after Kanye’s comments perfectly demonstrates how artists need to be held accountable for what they say and think about what they say before they say it due to the heavy influence it may have on others. 

Some people may say that art needs to be separated from the artist since the world wouldn’t have a lot of art that we have today made by controversial artists. However, I would argue that preventing harm against minorities is much more important than preserving art produced by people who empower hate against these groups. 

I believe that another issue that separating the art from the artist causes is that it normalizes antisemitism and other harmful beliefs held by these artists. If we keep allowing artists to say controversial statements without consequences, we are further demeaning the struggle of the targeted minorities. The Anti-Defamation League recorded a record-high amount of antisemitic crimes in 2021, with over 2700 cases of assault, harassment, and vandalism directed towards Jews, a 34% increase over 2020. These cases are becoming increasingly frequent, along with the celebrities supporting these ideas.

Antisemites have been empowered by celebrities supporting them and their messages, which has caused them to come out of the shadows and voice their radical beliefs and conspiracy theories against people of the Jewish faith and other minorities. What statements once would get you shunned by everyone are now becoming more and more socially acceptable. By keeping these artists and their art close to our hearts, we are causing their beliefs to remain relevant and have a widespread reach on people. 

So, can we separate artists and their controversial beliefs from the art they create? For me, the answer has to be no. I used to be an avid listener of Kanye West’s music. He was even my number one artist on Spotify this year in my Spotify Wrapped. However, I personally couldn’t live with myself if I continued to listen to his music and supported him financially, no matter how small of a fraction I may be adding to Ye’s pockets. I feel like if I keep listening to his music, I am not maintaining accountability and am further perpetuating the hate towards Jews, indirectly or not. I believe it isn’t morally correct to separate the art from the artist and support their careers despite the harm they cause.