Separating the art from the artist is not a black-and-white issue

Take the time to examine your personal convictions about art.

Katie Ticas, Guest Writer

Oftentimes, in issues of cancelation and cancel culture, we hear the phrase, “Separate the art from the artist.” This phrase is usually brought up when a popular celebrity or artist is accused of anything — from saying something out-of-hand to even committing a crime.

Your engagement with art is your choice. (Jordan Lewicki)

What people often mean by this phrase is that we do not have to collectively “cancel” the accused artist, because there might not be enough evidence that they actually did something offensive, or because their own actions do not affect the way their art is experienced. While it’s true that people should not be defined by their mistakes and are still individuals with valuable output in this world, sometimes it’s not so easy as it sounds to simply “separate the art from the artist.”

The art and the artists we cherish are oftentimes intertwined in our minds. Naturally, most of us connect with artists solely through their art, not in an extremely personal way. Because of that, many people cannot separate art from the artists because the two are so connected on many levels and the art is an extension of the artist’s personality.

This is why I believe it is up to the individual to critically examine their values and to engage with the art they have determined ‘ethical’ and ‘sound.’ Unless something is directly hurting others, we can disagree on what is morally right for us to listen to and engage with.

It’s difficult to discern between truth and fiction when accusations spread and defenses lash out. People may go so far as to declare a “cancelation” of an artist solely because of such allegations, and their concern likely comes from a good place. Allegations of sexual assault or racism are extremely important, and we should not take these topics lightly. We have to distance ourselves from hateful, destructive tendencies that have caused harm and trauma.

At the end of the day, however, you may have your own convictions about the true character of a person, and you may still choose to engage with them and their art, and you are free to do so. So, when someone tells you someone or something is “canceled,” I believe you should challenge them. Who is holding everyone else accountable? Is it the government? A court order? Your church? Your political party?

The same principle can be applied vice versa. If everyone else is treating a potentially hostile situation as non-existent or choosing to ignore the potential wrongdoings of an artist, you have a right to explain your reason for choosing to boycott them. However, you don’t have a right to tell other people how to engage, or whether to engage at all, with their preferred art. When things are confusing and you are not sure who to believe, each person must use their personal judgment and discernment, rather than blindly follow ‘cancel’ culture.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not believe ‘cancel’ culture is inherently bad. I think it has unfortunately been taken too seriously and been recently applied to petty situations. However, it has a good original purpose, which is to shed light on the wrongs of over-idolized public figures.

If we can learn to recognize and condemn the wrongs of artists, without making it an absolute judgment of their character and without imposing our opinion on everyone else, then we can live safely with ‘cancel’ culture and not give it too much power. Artists should be able to produce and distribute their art without intense scrutiny from all angles, which begins when we take a step back and recognize our limits and choose to carefully interact with art.


Opinions expressed in letters and other editorials, unless otherwise stated, are those of the writers and not of The Horizon staff or the college collectively.

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