Can We Separate Art from Artists?

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Abigail Lott, Staff Writer

Throughout history, many people have created works of art. Many of these people have become famous, beloved by the world, and become well-known celebrities. Sometimes though, these people say or do things that are offensive or generally wrong by the public standards, but does the backlash from the public and companies pulling sponsor deals apply to their work as well? 

When a celebrity gets into a controversy, the news often broadcasts it everywhere, and countless people see the story. Typically, celebrities apologize for their actions, but the stain of their remarks or actions remains. Some people can bounce back from controversy while others cannot. The work of those who cannot is sometimes ignored because of what the person did. The work is also criticized because of what the artist did. 

Yes, the public can ignore an artist’s work, which can bring down the artist’s revenue. YouTubers are a good example of artists who frequently deal with public backlash. When YouTubers get into controversies, their views and number of subscribers can plummet. Shane Dawson, a YouTuber who amassed a following with documentary series and conspiracy theories videos, is a prime example. His views and subscribers collapsed after it was revealed that he had made a series of racist statements, and that he made inappropriate gestures towards a poster of a female child celebrity. After that controversy, he left YouTube and receives no income from that social media platform. This system of ghosting can be effective in hurting some celebrities, but not all. 

Some other types of artists, such as authors, actors, or musicians, are not typically affected by cancel culture, as their content can’t be ignored. Their content can be separate from their actual actions and beliefs. One example that has come out recently involves J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, a beloved children’s series with a wide cultural impact. She got herself into hot water in 2020 after publicizing transphobic remarks. She was immediately criticized, and many people could not look at her work in the same way after. Yet her books don’t fully represent all of her views. They are mostly separate entities. So is it fair to ignore something that has nothing to do with the creator and their actions? No. 

Even though many people do link the art and the artist, these pieces of work are not the same as the creator. They are a piece of art that can mean many different things and are not attached to the artist’s perspective on other ideas and actions. Think of Michael Jackson. He had done some terrible things, but that does not mean most people have stopped listening to his music. His music – his art form – is separate from himself as a person. They are two completely different things. So when another artist gets into controversy, don’t downplay all of their art. Some of it does represent their beliefs, as in the case of Shane Dawson, but some of it doesn’t. These artists still did amazing work, and we can mostly separate their actions from it.