BFBA: Is it possible to separate the art from the artist?


In recent years, controversy has had a tendency of sidling into the art world with disastrous consequences. With social media making it easier for hungry audiences to dig up old skeletons, artists risk tainting the value of their work with particularly inexcusable behavior. 

While fans battle to defend their favorite musicians or filmmakers or painters, many people debate whether it’s even possible to separate the art from the artist. 

Does a troubling artist ruin their art? Is it possible to separate the two?

Not only is it possible, but a concerning artist can also redefine a work in a new lens. Take Kanye West, for example, whose recent bigoted and pro-Nazi statements made even the most diehard reactionary commentators squeamish. 

In no way is condoning West’s statements ever valid; his anti-Semitic views should be condemned. And yet, is it still so wrong to enjoy his music?

Listening to Kanye is not an endorsement of a millionaire racist. To listen to Kanye is to witness an American id on the verge of self-destruction; a hedonist in touch with his moral conscience; and a rapper who, against all odds, achieved the American dream like no one else.

Art is an examination of ideas and portraits of madmen. But just because the pearl came from a mucky clam does not make the pearl any less valuable.

Art is subjective, after all. Disregarding a work becomes counterintuitive to art itself.

Sometimes a troubling artist can shift their work into a new perspective. Robert Blake’s performance in the 1967 film adaptation of In Cold Blood becomes ever more devastating upon learning that the actor may have murdered his wife.

Blake and his performance as Perry Smith–the real-life burglar-turned-murderer–begins to blur, transforming an already devastating performance into a heart-wrenching gut-punch when you realize the tragedy that the film portrays continues to live on.

At the end of the day, though, it’s up to the audience to determine whether they accept an artist or not. Art is what you make of it; it’s a conduit to your mind, but make of that what you will.