The art VS the artist

Opinion 23/03/2018

How do we consume art and culture when it’s made by people who’ve done bad things? This is a question that’s troubled me lately. We often tip-toe around the misdemeanours of artists who we appreciate while at the same time, scrutinising artists we dislike even though they have done similar things. In this piece, I want to break down the arguments for and against separating artists from the work they create and hopefully get some of your insight too.

The following description is contested by Chris Brown but was extracted from a police officers account in an affidavit.

On the 8th of February 2009, Chris Brown left Clive Davis’spre-grammy party with Rihanna, his girlfriend at the time. On their way out, Rihanna saw a long text from another woman on Chris’ phone and became upset. Chris took the investigation as a personal affront and attempted to push her out the pulled-over vehicle. When her seatbelt prevented this, Chris turned to the next best option. Assault. He began punching her with his right hand as he drove with his left. The assault eventually subsided, and Rihanna was given a chance to inspect her bleeding face in the mirror. Chris took the reprise as an opportunity to inform Rihannathat he planned to continue the abuse when they got home, and so she called her manager and asked to have police sent to wait at the property. This led Chris to launch into another round of abuse, punching, choking and biting her. Eventually, he pulled over and ran from the scene as Rihanna screamed for help. Later that night he turned up at an LAPD office where he was arrested for assault. (Read more: Here)

The whole event ruined Brown’s clean image and sent him into a spiral of destructive and abusive behaviour. He was sentenced to counselling, community service, a restraining order and was eventually released from probation in 2015. Even though the idea of beating your partner for discovering you’re cheating is sickening, how long should we despise a person for such behaviour? The court case is over, the pair have reconciled, and Chris Brown appears to be repentant. As I write this, he currently has two songs on the Billboard Top 100, and I don’t know whether that is okay or not. Is it because we have all collectively forgiven him or is it because we just don’t care anymore?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I hate Chris Brown and his music but imagine for a moment, that your favourite musician is arrested for assault and goes on a music hiatus. An artist who you appreciate is revealed to be a scumbag, and you’re expected to burn the CDs, snap the vinyl and never listen to their music again. Their songs might be about love and friendship but they did a crappy thing, and you must draw a line.

Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy a.k.a XXXTentacion

This happened to me last year when I found out about XXXTentacion’s troubled past. He has faced allegations of false imprisonment, domestic abuse, aggravated battery and witness-tampering to mention a few. He has been in and out of court for years and is currently on home detention at the age of 19. When I found this out, I was posed with a choice. Do I delete my entire XXXTentacion library and never engage with him again as I did with Chris Brown or do I adjust my moral compass to enjoy his art? So I deleted my catalogue. I cleared all my devices of his music and torrented them illegally as a final nail in the coffin. However, as time went on, he began to mature, he separated himself from the music he used to make into more open and emotional territory. He apologised for his rocky past and did things to start making up for it. Search #helpinghandchallenge to see what I’m talking about. I moved on. I let myself listen to his new music and enjoy it.

Am I a bad person for doing this? Maybe; I don’t know, but before you question me, look into your idols. So many artists have troubled pasts, this is what helps make their work so potent. Below is a small list of abusive artists. Some were paedophiles, some were violent, some are rapists, and others sold drugs, yet all are confirmed degenerates.

Michael Fassbender
Sean Connery
Johnny Depp
Nicolas Cage
Charlie Sheen
Bill Cosby
Carmen Electra
Ozzy Osbourne
Wiz Khalifa
David O. Russell
Sean Penn
Kevin Spacey
Woody Allen
Tupac Shakur
James Franco
Britney Spears
James Brown
John Travolta
Mel Gibson
Michael Jackson
Emma Roberts
Christian Slater
Roman Polanski
Also maybe David Bowie. It depends who you ask.

Kevin Spacey on the red carpet at The Oscars

Despite this list being incredibly short, could you imagine losing all of their art from your life? When Kevin Spacey was cut from House of Cards, I understood, but my heart broke a little. I love many movies he’s in, and I don’t want to have to avoid them just for his sake. In the list above didn’t even include painters, writers, producers, and dancers. This list doesn’t account for smaller crimes like driving under the influence or robbery either. It could extend for miles depending on the conditions you would like to set.

The truth is, people suck. Big time. We’ve all done things that we regret, and we all hide things about ourselves because it would harm our career. Celebrities are just the most exposed. There are scientists, engineers, business people and academics who’re also scumbags yet we are far less likely to keep track of them and avoid their products because it just takes too much effort. The media packages the misdemeanours of celebrities into little online clips and colourful graphics, so we don’t have to keep track of them ourselves. Could you imagine the #timesup movement being as exposed, engaging and enduring in another industry? I can’t. Schadenfreude just feels better when you know who’s expense it’s at.

Now I’m not saying we should ignore the important stories and movements like #timesup, but I am questioning the hypocritical conditions we set them. It seems to me; the only realistic solution is to work with what you know. Don’t go out of your way to investigate every artist you like and support, just take the news as it comes. We can’t keep track of the behaviour of all artists, but we can deal with the ones we do know. If their behaviour is bad enough to put you off their art, then go for it but should we let others make that decision for us? I don’t think so.


This originally appeared on Hendon.

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