Separating Art from the Artists

Arnojya Shree explores her relationship with cancel culture, and the difficulty of separating art from the artist who created it.

Arnojya Shree
27th February 2021
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For as long as art has existed, I'm sure the concern of separating art from artists has existed as well. The line is a hard one to draw.

As human beings, we have a spongy being-ness; our emotional, mental, physical and spiritual structure filled with vacant spaces and curiosity. Naturally, we consume art, absorb it and devour it without being aware of how it fuels us, and it most definitely does.

We are continually responding to the stimuli in our environment. Art is a particularly influential stimuli because it can move us and touch something intangible buried deep within us. Music, even more so because it is made up of frequencies, waves, and vibrations, interacting with our energetic bodies subconsciously. Furthermore, music is a cultural product with the potential to form an intimate connection with our psyche. In which case, there should be a high level of awareness when it comes to consuming music.

In the post #MeToo era, more and more musicians are being "cancelled" for their predatory, pedophilic and racist behaviour. The internet is a significant advantage, as a platform for musicians to build their fan-bases. At the same time, their every move and action, be it past or present, gets scrutinized under microscopic lenses by millions of people worldwide.

The primary concern is the divide between pleasure and moral consciousness, to sacrifice one for another. For instance, I used to be a fan of Chris Brown until the news of his abusive relationship with Rihanna came to light. After the incident, every song feels tainted, as if suddenly there is a layer of darkness upon the vocals. Somehow, all the lyrics, music concepts and interviews start glimmering with the subtext of the abusive behaviour, which had always been there, but, just like other people, I didn't see it.

I didn't decide to cancel the cultural product or the effect created by musicians like Michael Jackson, David Bowie, R Kelly or Chris Brown. But I did choose and will continue to choose to not listen to music that makes my soul feel tainted. That taint is no exaggeration because nothing is above the peace of my moral consciousness. I don't choose for other people, but I do decide for myself.

I did choose and will continue to choose to not listen to music that makes my soul feel tainted. That taint is no exaggeration because nothing is above the peace of my moral consciousness.

I have always advocated for the social responsibility which celebrities or anyone in a socially elevated position carry with themselves. Moreover, for a world full of human beings who have always been dependent on art, social media has created an increasingly idol-worshipping effect on celebrities. Intense "ride or die" fandoms exist worldwide, some of which are quick to defend at a personal cost and quick to change opinions after learning new truths. So, it is challenging to debate whether art should be separated from the artist, and could a highly personal topic. But for me, that decision emerges from a gut-feeling, which always points due north and has never let me down. I don't have the power to override my moral consciousness by choosing to look away from an artist's mistakes and the trauma he/she/they caused other people. As an empath, I understand how deep wounds run because I have felt its crippling effect. So, even though I am as connected to music as devotees are to their Gods, I still hold the power to make a conscious choice to support what is right. Above all, I owe it to myself to not let this relationship get corrupted by making exceptions, just for aural pleasure.

Before even making bold statements about such things, it is crucial to have a dialogue with yourself and others about the kinds of things we choose to engage with. Even though we can't control the circumstances, we can control our responses and make an informed decision. More than anything, a topic as sensitive as this must encourage discussions because music is like a memory that we carry within ourselves for a lifetime, leaving permanent imprints. And we all have to decide what we choose to carry; because it can heal you or hinder you.

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