Kanye West made headlines when he returned to the public sphere earlier this year. He made tweets in support of Donald Trump and infamously said that slavery was a choice in a TMZ interview. At the same time he also announced his line of short albums that he planned on releasing in June. In reaction to what many considered to be his abhorrent opinions, people flocked to social media to voice that they will be boycotting his music and encouraged others to do so. This is a call for action (or inaction I suppose) that I am left feeling conflicted with.
In one light, I see the merit of a group of people joining together to boycott the art released by an artist who they deem morally corrupt or deficient. In the spirit of not directly supporting this artist in a monetary form, say in a movie ticket or in purchasing an album, I respect the protest as a legitimate way to limit the rewarding of this artist. However, a spirit of boycott I have a harder time fathoming and understanding is a complete withdrawal of experiencing their art.
With this mindset, these people commit themselves to not listening to any music by The Beatles because of the domestic abuse perpetrated by John Lennon. These are the people who may not listen to the music of R. Kelly because he peed on a 15-year-old girl and lead a sex cult. These are people who will never see important films like Rosemary’s Baby or Chinatown because of what Roman Polanski did to a 13-year-old girl. I’m not saying that these people deserve sympathy or should receive our respect or money, but we shouldn’t deny ourselves the opportunity to experience their art.
Whether or not we would like to admit it, these artists have done awful things in their life and are repugnant in the highest sense of the word. However, that doesn’t change the status of their art and in the cases of Lennon, Polanski and even in the case of West, this doesn’t change how important their work is in the shaping of our modern artistic culture. The actions of music and film artists do not determine the quality of their craft, and we shouldn’t have to deprive ourselves of these cultural touchstones because of their dumb or evil actions.
Some of us will have a hard time separating the artist from the art, and to those people I sympathize. If you can’t experience the work of someone without recalling on the actions of the person who created it, than I don’t ask that you force yourself to have to put yourself through that. However, if you have wanted to see or hear these exhibits of cultural phenomena without having to feel like a monster yourself, I suggest finding other ways of experiencing them without directly contributing to the artist. Perhaps listening to a song uploaded to YouTube by a third party or picking up a movie at a garage sale when you see it. Just know that you have the right to have these experiences, and the actions and words of their creators shouldn’t prevent you from having it.