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Neutral Magazine

Issues & Debates

Neutral is always dedicated to getting in-between the spaces of issues and debates, allowing its readers to think, question and delve deeper.

Neutral Magazine + Issues & Debates

Separating Art From the Artist

By Roman Manson | roman.manson@yorksj.ac.uk

Every time I listen to The Smiths, I think about Morrissey. And with thoughts about Morrissey come thoughts about how openly right-wing he is. So even for the second I remember it, I feel that little bit guilty for liking the music. The same thing happened with J.K Rowling; I was a huge Harry Potter fan. Then Rowling decided to show her true colours as a transphobe, and now every time I watch any of the Harry Potter films, I am reminded that the creator of such an interesting universe thinks that certain people shouldn’t exist. And yet again, while looking at any Pablo Picasso painting, I am haunted by the fact that he once referred to women as “machines for suffering”. So, do I stop listening to The Smiths? Should I sell my Harry Potter books? Do I condemn myself to a life avoiding paintings?

Indulging in a person’s art does not make you a bad person (unless of course the product itself is ethically wrong). You can watch Dumbo and spot the racial undertones in some of the scenes and know that they are racist and disagree with it. You can watch The Shining with the knowledge of the psychological torture Shelley Duvall endured, and still appreciate how good the film is. It’s possible to watch a film and disregard who the director might be or what they might have done because you won’t really be actively seeing or thinking of them while watching. Musicians on the other hand have direct involvement on what you are listening to, they are front and center. Making it more difficult to take in without thinking of who created it.

Cancel culture has escalated rapidly over the last few years. As a Twitter user I am reminded almost every day who I should and should not support, almost being peer-pressured into dropping and picking up content creators, left, right, and center. I’ve heard people complain about how sensitive the new generations are, but it is not that we are more sensitive, it’s just that we are more likely to hold people accountable for the things that they do. People who have never faced racism, sexism, or any form of degradation are perhaps not going to care if someone they respect has been accused of doing such.

I can understand the frustration when someone you admire turns out not to be the pure soul you thought they were, but that comes with the unrealistic expectations the public puts on creators. I feel there should always be a separation between creator and audience. The pedestal you put people on needs to be lowered. Nobody is perfect, so why view them as such?

Immoral creators will always exist. Nonetheless you, as a spectator, have a choice of who you would like to support, whether that be openly defending them, continuously being involved in whatever they put out, or financially. It’s very easy nowadays to support things using your hard-earned cash (with thanks to creative merchandise and money spinning ideas), making it even easier to turn around and say, “no thank you!” to buying a cinema ticket or an album, and with pirating websites easy to come by, it makes it almost too easy to not give suspicious people your monetary support. If I were to illegally download and watch a film, I would be avoiding giving the creators any profit. Entertainment without the strings attached. When Mulan was released this year, a lot of people were advocating to boycott it, due to the ties it has with Xinjiang entities directly involved with mass internment camps. The term boycott has appeared a lot over the years, it serves the purpose of rejecting the involvement of a piece of media so that it doesn’t succeed. Over the years I can’t really give an example of a movie that has done badly because of a stance against its creators. Most of the time if a movie is boycotted and doesn’t do well, it’s due to the fact it’s a terrible product. And although mass boycotting hardly works, it allows individuals to take a stance and agree to not financially support something.

What if you read a book, fell in love with it, named your child after the main character, and then five years later discover on Google that the author turns out to have been involved with a dodgy sex ring? Do you immediately destroy your copies, change your child’s name, and live in guilt that you’ve devoted your life to something created by someone so evil? Maybe that’s a little bit too dramatic, but there have been times where I have expressed love for something, for someone to turn around and inform me that it’s not as wholesome as it once seemed. You shouldn’t feel guilty for not knowing everything about everyone, sometimes the director of a film is just a name you see in the credits, the author of a book is just the name you see on the front, and a band name is a band name. Googling every piece of media you encounter is exhausting, you cannot investigate everybody. However, it is important to still hold these people accountable if they do something wrong, you as a consumer have the decision to support someone or not, so use that power wisely.

At the end of the day, the separation from art and the artist is a completely personal thing. You do what you do, and others will do what they do. If you feel comfortable taking something in and ignoring who made it, that is purely your decision to make. Nonetheless, respect people who do boycott, and respect the people who don’t, everybody consumes things differently.