Opinion: You can’t separate the art and the artist


Ella Adams, Managing Editor

The conversation on whether you can separate the art and the artist is hotly debated in social media comment sections whenever a new scandal involving a popular artist pops up. In the age of cancel culture, many are quick to stop supporting an artist after accusations of problematic behavior. Video footage from last year of a physical altercation between rappers Quavo and Saweetie recently surfaced. The couple’s recent and very public breakup has social media users taking sides and even calling for Quavo, a member of the hip-hop group Migos, to be cancelled. It’s time to settle this question: can you separate the art and the artist?

Art is a personal expression of one’s perspective of the world. A piece of art’s relationship and meaning to its creator is exactly what makes it art. Because art is so personal, musicians, visual artists, filmmakers and other artists cannot be separated from their creations. 

In addition to being a personal expression, art can also be a means of income. By supporting an artist’s work, you are supporting the artist themself. 

The connection between art and the artist isn’t a problem until the artist becomes problematic. Renowned artists, including Edgar Degas and Pablo Picasso both have a reputation for misogyny and outright sexist themes within their artwork. That’s not to say that their art isn’t good. Art from the past can still be appreciated while still recognizing its creator’s backgrounds, biases and flaws. 

Recognizing an artist’s questionable behavior is different in a modern context. For example, musician Chris Brown has a documented history of violence toward women. In 2009, musician and businesswoman Rihanna was a victim of his abuse. Despite his violent actions and behavior toward women, Brown releases music regularly. Streaming a Chris Brown song puts money directly into his pocket. It’s impossible to separate the art from the artist because listening to Brown’s music supports his career and ability to create more content. You can’t listen to Brown’s music and willingly ignore his history as an abuser because consuming his art directly benefits him. 

That’s not to say that every artist who’s done anything wrong should be canceled, but we must keep in mind that the art and the artist are a package deal. Ignoring the background of an artist is a disservice to their creations. Frida Kahlo and Nina Simone are both artists whose cultures and experiences as women deeply impacted their art. Both Kahlo and Simone used their art to protest discrimination against and express their identities as Mexican and African-American women, respectively. To separate the art from the artist would be an insult to their legacies. 

That being said, art isn’t only a personal experience for the artist. Art is also individually interpreted by the viewer, listener or audience. When it comes down to it, art is personal. Even though I think you can’t separate art from the artist doesn’t mean you necessarily agree. All art is, is a matter of opinion.