Can You Separate Art from the Artist?

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When we think about the issue of separating art from its artist we should take into consideration several aspects. A lot of people think that art can be separated from its artist because the artists’ work can be separated from their life. And so we can look at art from an objective point of view. However, I think that the financial, social and power structure ties between an artist and a piece of work should be taken into consideration. The decision to separate art from the artist should be based on a combination of three things: profit, principle and perception

Profit

Will that person profit from you consuming their art? Let’s take for example a YouTuber who has been convicted of multiple crimes. If you watch their videos which have ads enabled and you buy their merchandise, you know that you are supporting them financially. But if we think about a writer who was a domestic abuser but died 50 years ago if your decision is purely made because of profit it won’t matter if you consume their material because they have no way of gaining from it.

Principle

It might be within your internal moral code as a point of principle to not consume a piece of art regardless of whether the artist would financially profit from it. If you are acting purely on principle, then you wouldn’t even pirate a song from an artist that has committed a felony. One reason for acting on principle rather than straight profit is although someone might not gain profit in the short term they might end up gaining it in the long term. Accepting the work of someone who does things that you consider to be wrong potentially sends the message to people that those things are at least in part acceptable.

Perception

Sometimes things just feel wrong, which means that emotionally even art that you once loved can become tainted by the things that you know about the artist. It means that even if you reason the idea of how art and artist are or are not linked, you still feel a certain way about it. Or maybe the example that you are thinking of is not morally black or white to you.

Ultimately it’s up to you whether you choose to support an artist or not. But I do think it is important to think about whether these personal boycotts may simply be doing something for you, the individual, to feel better about yourself, and not doing anything to dismantle the structures which are allowing these things to happen in the first place.

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