By Sequoia Gregorich, Co-Content Editor and Giacomo Kuzma, Columnist
“That [man] gave us ‘Billie Jean,’ you say he touched those kids? / When [expletive] hit the fan, is you still a fan?” Kendrick Lamar ponders.
In his song “Mortal Man,” Lamar raises an important question: When an artist or idol commits a heinous act, should we refuse to acknowledge them and/or their artistry?
This can be a trying debate. Is it unacceptable to recognize the work of a morally-compromised artist, regardless of the work’s quality? Or does an artist stand apart from their artistry and therefore not require complete discrediting?
A lot of personal opinions come into conflict around this. For example, disregarding child molestation allegations against Michael Jackson can be easier in light of him commercially paving the way for black artists in the music industry. Praising Jackson’s work may be simpler than praising Chris Brown’s insignificant and less-than-vapid music, especially when you consider that a substantial amount of Brown’s music is related to love and women, making it painfully ironic when you take into account his beating of his then-girlfriend, Rihanna.
When someone unaware of the artist experiences a piece of art for the first time, they could form a different opinion than one formed with the knowledge of an artist’s moral corruption. Misdeeds cannot be easily gleaned through the brush strokes of a painting or the tune of a song. The piece is left open to interpretation by the audience, free from its owner’s past.
Whether or not an audience is aware of the artist’s actions, artistry is not necessarily synonymous with the artist, and by extension, is not directly connected to the artist’s personal life and choices. An artist creates a piece of art, and then the piece stands apart from its creator.
Bill Cosby, who in his heyday was a comedic genius, allegedly raped countless women, yet his TV show remains unchanged. If Cosby is found to be guilty, society will condemn him, and he should feel and live with the pain of his actions every day thereafter. But his work should still be a separate entity that we can enjoy for its comedic value.
Influential artists like Michael Jackson can also be difficult to denounce once the impact of their artform is considered.
“Jackson’s musical influence on subsequent artists is simply unavoidable, from his immediate followers like Madonna and Bobby Brown to later stars like Usher and Justin Timberlake,” Hampton Stevens of The Atlantic said.
That’s a pretty difficult accomplishment to overlook.
Music, in many ways, is a highly personal and intimate form of expression. Arguably it is more so than a painting, which is much more interpretative from one person to another. This is why many of us can feel so conflicted when experiencing an artist’s work, especially Jackson’s. There is plenty of evidence supporting the allegations against Jackson as a child molester. That can make the experience of listening to “Thriller” or “Smooth Criminal” … uncomfortable.
However, consider this. Jackson’s alleged misconducts did not make his songs what they are. The part of his brain which may have had pedophilic tendencies was arguably not responsible for revolutionary hits such as “Billie Jean” and “Man in the Mirror.”
We have concluded that the artist and art are separate. Art is unchanged, regardless of whether or not its creator has done something evil or virtuous. An artist who has done something morally questionable, as mentioned, should not be commemorated except for their role as an entertainer and artist.
Anything lying outside of that, whatever your opinion may be, is moving into something of a more personal perspective, and should not sway your beliefs.
We adamantly believe the wrongdoings of an artist should never be forgotten. But we also believe great art should be forever remembered. Art bears great cultural value to people, and that significance should not be dismissed based on the wrongdoings of its creator. Unless an art piece is inspired by and praising pedophilic or any other abominable activity, the piece remains to be learned from and admired.