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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: You can appreciate art without supporting the artist

Photo by David Swanson for U.S. News.

It seems like every day another artist faces a lawsuit or posts some thought that should have stayed in their drafts. There is no shortage of scandal among celebrities, from R. Kelly’s 20-year prison sentence to Kanye West’s antisemitic comments.

But when a fallen celebrity makes art — music, books and movies — should we abandon both the artist and their art? I say no. In fact, it is harmful to do so. To reduce a piece of art to its maker and their mistakes is detrimental to the idea of art itself. Nowhere is this phenomenon more noticeable than in the music world.

It is inevitable for a song to be thought of without also thinking of the creator, essentially, the artist will always be connected to the art they make.

But, when a song enters the public arena, it becomes as much the listener’s art as it is the artist’s art.

There are few things a creator can do to change how their music will be interpreted and enjoyed. It happens with any piece of art, music or not; the artist loses control of their creation. It may inspire some and anger others, but copyright laws cannot contain the natural course of art.

Well-known artists are often caught up in problematic, inappropriate or even criminal behavior — for example, Lizzo's recent sexual harassment allegations filed against her last year. But these allegations do not eliminate the impact her music in specific has had and continues to have on pop culture.

Lizzo experienced a fall from grace last August. “About Damn Time,” a feel-good song released in 2022, hit number one on the Billboard Top 100 chart and won Record of The Year at the Grammy Awards in 2023. Regardless of the allegations posed against Lizzo, “About Damn Time” has an enjoyable life of its own.

But, there is still merit in the art created, despite mistakes the artist may have made. When we reduce music to the creator who composed it, we lose sight of what makes art so meaningful: how it impacts the listener. 

The art versus the artist debate is most contentious when it comes to money. The majority of music enjoyers listen to music online through streaming platforms like Spotify or Apple Music.

Because of the state of the music industry, it is impossible to avoid financially supporting a problematic artist while still listening to their music. However, streaming platforms are rarely a musician’s primary income, and most of their revenue comes from touring and selling merchandise.

For the average listener who relies on streaming services rather than physical media like CDs and records, separating the art from the artist means not attending concerts or purchasing the artist’s products.

Though this may be difficult for people who consider themselves super fans, if you want to separate the art from the artist, it is important to not support them monetarily by buying into their brand. 

As with many things, it is important to be informed, but that should not taint your enjoyment of the music you listen to. So, be aware of your favorite artist’s views and actions, the singers whose faces appear on your sweatshirt or whose concerts you attend. But do not feel bad listening to that new album; we can still enjoy the songs while acknowledging the wrongdoings of the creator who made it.

Music is an art that anyone can appreciate and can mean an endless number of things beyond the context of the problematic artist who wrote it.

@dthopinion |

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