Separating the art from the artist

Kanye West raps and sings through his two headline shows at the House of Blues in 2004.

For a solid three years of my life, my favorite band in the world was The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. I had the merch, I had them as my number one listened to artist on Spotify, and most excitingly, I got to see them live at Riotfest in 2021.

Little did I know this would be their last live show they ever performed, and it would be one of the last times I could listen to them without a small twinge of guilt.

Let’s talk about art. Art can be anything, but one thing remains consistent among all it’s forms: art must have an artist. 

Whether that artist be the Earth itself, whatever interpretation of a god you hold, or Beyoncé, they all can make things that touch our very souls in ways we could not ourselves. 

A rainbow, the song your mom sung while rocking you to sleep, the first movie your dad took you to see. All are pieces of art made by someone else and impressed onto you.

But what happens when whoever made it just plain sucks?

If you were to ask my boss his favorite album six months ago, he would’ve told you it was “Graduation” by Kanye West and he would have done it with a smile. Three articles of mine and a whole lot of anti-Semitic tweets from West later, the mere mention of the artist’s name brings disgust upon his face.

Kevin Spacey is another great example. “The Usual Suspects” and “Baby Driver” are some of my personal favorite movies, but viewing them feels wrong knowing that he’s an alleged pedophile.

This leads me in to my focal question about this topic: do the acts of an artist in any way effect the way you interpret that art?

I’d argue in certain cases it does. Take watching an interaction between Michael Jackson and a young Macaulay Culkin as an example, one could have a few inferences based on past allegations of what was going on there.

That being said, this is not something you can apply to everything, and is in fact the outlier to most examples where the artist sucks. I believe all art should be judged upon by a person’s interpretation of it.

There’s no way to say what was going on in Kevin Spacey’s head when he filmed “The Usual Suspects”, but there is a way to remember what was going on in mine when I first watched it. 

His actions do not take away from the thousands of other people who put in work on that film, and definitely shouldn’t take away from the final product. In the end, that film made me feel something and Kevin Spacey’s allegations can’t change that fact.

I’d like to tie this all back to my first example with The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Their music helped get me into ska, which I now consider one of my favorite genres, but their lead singer is an anti-vaxxer, which caused the band to break up shortly after I saw them.

I’ll never agree with his actions, but I also can’t disagree with my feelings. My memories of listening to some of their songs for the first time will forever be imprinted in my mind, and his actions will never take that away from me.