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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Is it possible to disentangle the art from the artist?

While it’s hard to stop loving our favorite creators when they make harmful comments, we can decide to no longer support them




Content warning: This article contains discussions of antisemitism, transphobia and threats of violence that readers may find disturbing.


Artists are in a unique position because viewers and listeners can create a connection with them separate from who the artists are as a person. We can love Taylor Swift or feel deeply connected to Phoebe Bridgers after listening to “Smoke Signals” without knowing anything about them.

So when we hear about artists we have come to feel close to making transphobic, antisemitic, racist or otherwise harmful comments, we can’t help but feel a bit betrayed. And this begs the question: Can we still love their work? 

In the most recent case of artistic controversy, Kanye West, now known as “Ye,” made antisemitic comments on Twitter this past Sunday. In one of his tweets, Ye said he would go “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE,” referencing Def. Con, the U.S. defense ready condition in which the Air Force is ready to mobilize in 15 minutes. This statement is both an abuse of a public platform and a threat against the Jewish population in the U.S. After hearing all of this, it’s hard to still tell your friends to listen to “Donda.”

And yet in other cases, it can be diminishing of other artists’ work to completely write off a series that was created by a problematic person. Joss Whedon, for example, was accused on multiple occasions of being verbally abusive to actors and writers for various projects such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” That said, the 90s series is well-loved and showcases not just Whedon’s work but that of many actors, writers and editors. Should we feel obligated to no longer watch the show because of its creator?

Other examples include J.K. Rowling, author of the “Harry Potter” series, who tweeted the first of many transphobic comments in 2020. Rowling responded to an op-ed that included the phrase “people who menstruate” in the title, writing, “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” 

This statement was the first of a series of comments from Rowling about gender that received backlash from many. While these comments are extremely harmful to the LGBTQ+ community and people who are transgender and nonbinary, it’s hard to discard your nostalgia for the “Harry Potter” series or tell your 10-year-old cousin not to read the books. “Harry Potter” film star Daniel Radcliffe made a statement to a similar effect in response to Rowling’s tweets: “To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you. I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you. […] And in my opinion, nobody can touch that.”

It’s important to remember that liking an artist’s work doesn’t require listening to their opinions or agreeing with their beliefs. That said, it can be hard to fully separate the art from the artist when those who have created work near and dear to our hearts have made blatantly violent or harmful comments. In some cases, it can feel necessary to cease listening to or appreciating their work because consuming these creators’ content makes them money, gives them more influence and can indirectly encourage their behavior.

While the solution isn’t clear, it’s important to carefully decide what media you want to consume. Even in the case of creators that don’t seem to be problematic, it’s best not to put them on a pedestal, as there is no way to truly know any celebrity. And although we can’t always change our opinions on art that has a nostalgic place in our hearts, we can decide who we support, whether that be through streams or book purchases.


Written by: The Editorial Board