The Art of Separation

Sharen Samson


Separating artists from their art when their choices prove problematic may prompt us to question our values and assess whether we are willing to compromise what we believe for a song. If an artist acts contrary to our values, will their art then be written off as an act of defiance? Or is it easier to turn a blind eye and focus on the artistic form itself? Where do we draw the line, and how forgiving will we be for a beat?


Thinking about this puts a knot in my stomach. Music plays a role in all our lives. Whether it be the white noise as we complete our daily commutes or the booming release at the end of the working week.


However, the reality is that our favourite artists can be accused of sexual abuse, or found engaging in paedophilia. The question remains as to whether our experience as listeners is affected by this. I can’t reconcile the separation of the artist and the art knowing that the person behind it is not ethical. The way my mind is wired makes it difficult for me to separate wrongdoings and  art. It may be the fact that as a woman, I can connect with the circumstances and envision the distress of survivors. I imagine that those who have different lived experiences as me won’t feel the same way.


I was speaking to a friend of mine about this recently. Tara is avidly involved in the Sydney creative space and interacts with artists quite regularly. She also followed a band for several years up until sexual harassment allegations were released. Tara explained that, although she plays their songs occasionally, support is not something she can give. Despite this, she says, “I do think people can change. I think everyone should have the ability to amend their pasts. It’s how this is done though, and whether they are truly remorseful and aim to change themselves or not.”


Intricacies will arise when understanding these issues. Not everything is black and white, and it can be difficult to make a judgement on the ethical implications of listening to a song. An individual’s life choices do not influence my own. Yet, if aggressive art is matched with aggressive actions, both punishable by law and a disturbance to society, my lived experiences tell me to take a step back. My voice may not be of the masses, and I am OK with this. My favourite artist is human, and tunnel vision is not in my toolbox.


Yet, the phenomenon of ‘cancel culture’ stands as problematic because it does not allow people room to grow. I acknowledge that it is important to be aware of who you support, and the lives they lead. But where is the line? What is the distinction between forgivable, ignorant mistakes and heinous crimes?


For all that I know, everyone makes mistakes, and ‘cancel culture’ may be too much to bear when push comes to shove. The only thing I know for sure is that my gut won’t waver, and I won’t go where my mind says no.