Admit it. It hurts when an actor, musician, artist or any type of celebrity you looked up to turns out to have a few skeletons in the closet. It seems like a tragic part of fame we’ve come to accept is there’s always the possibility that these individuals we look up to are still human and more than capable of doing unspeakable things. However, as more and more prominent celebrities have their more problematic sides revealed, the question rises about what should be done with their previous works. Do we completely write them off, or do we try to ignore the horrors of real-life and enjoy their art as a separate entity?
There’s a lot of nuance (hence why there’s plenty of books written on the subject). Take Minecraft for example. The creator, Notch, may promote Q-Anon and transphobic beliefs, but the game doesn’t reflect his views. It’s had a decade of development without him, and Microsoft has cut out all mention of him. So in that case, sure, you can fully separate the artist and the art. But something like the Harry Potter books have themes that are so intertwined with J.K. Rowling’s heinous and ignorant world view that it’s almost impossible to separate the two.
There is no clean and clear one size fits all solution to the question. It is possible to separate art from the artist, and at the same time it’s kind of impossible. The circumstances of the situation play a big role in whether or not the two can be separated. The biggest circumstance is whether or not the art played a major role in the actions of the artist. For instance, John Mulaney. He’s a comedian, and he cheated on his wife. Mulaney did not joke about or lie about the cheating in any of his comedy acts. Some of his sketches, including but not limited to the “salt and pepper diner” or “the bittenbinder method”, are not related to those actions. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have people like Ryan Haywood, who was formerly a member of Achievement Hunter and Rooster Teeth. He similarly cheated on his wife, among other allegations involving under age fans, and this is an instance of you cannot separate the art, video game related content, from the artist.
It definitely depends on the artist and what type of mess they are in. When Kendrick Lamar released his album and in one of his songs he repeatedly said the F-slur and there was a big conversation about that. He was 100% wrong but as an artist he has definitely done a lot specifically for the black community and just music in general which should be considered.
It becomes difficult with monetization. One can try actively to not stream artists that have done things that go against their morals (ie. Michael Jackson, Adam Levine, etc.) because they gain profit from your listenership. However, you can still appreciate their work for what it is and its influence. You can’t say Michael Jackson didn’t impact pop music and the presence of black artists in mainstream media, and you can respect that. But you shouldn’t give money to people who’ve done bad things all the same.
What it seems to come down to is acknowledging the wrong doings. Blindly trying to ignore the actions, whether good or bad, of an individual is risky. Many of these artists have done terrible things, but many have also blazed trails for newer artists to rise and learn from their mistakes. We acknowledge and know that Elvis meeting his wife Priscilla when she was 14 years old is wrong. And it was a mistake of the 2022 film to ignore this fact, but there’s no denying that Elvis did have an impact on music that gave rise to many other artists that we listen to today. And these artists may do their own terrible things, but the art they make now could inspire someone to one day make their own great art. Some may call it a cycle, but if we continue to learn and adapt, then it becomes more and more of an evolution.