COMMENTARY: Can you separate an artist from their art?

%28Photo+by+Eva+Rinaldi+%5BCC-BY-SA+2.0%5D%29+Chris+Brown%27s+reputation+as+an+R%26B+singer+has+been+clouded+by+a+pattern+of+cases+of+domestic+violence.+Fans+struggle+to+reconcile+their+feelings+toward+his+music+and+Brown+as+a+person.
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COMMENTARY: Can you separate an artist from their art?

(Photo by Eva Rinaldi [CC-BY-SA 2.0]) Chris Brown's reputation as an R&B singer has been clouded by a pattern of cases of domestic violence. Fans struggle to reconcile their feelings toward his music and Brown as a person.

(Photo by Eva Rinaldi [CC-BY-SA 2.0]) Chris Brown's reputation as an R&B singer has been clouded by a pattern of cases of domestic violence. Fans struggle to reconcile their feelings toward his music and Brown as a person.

Eva Rinaldi

(Photo by Eva Rinaldi [CC-BY-SA 2.0]) Chris Brown's reputation as an R&B singer has been clouded by a pattern of cases of domestic violence. Fans struggle to reconcile their feelings toward his music and Brown as a person.

Eva Rinaldi

Eva Rinaldi

(Photo by Eva Rinaldi [CC-BY-SA 2.0]) Chris Brown's reputation as an R&B singer has been clouded by a pattern of cases of domestic violence. Fans struggle to reconcile their feelings toward his music and Brown as a person.

By Genevieve Gustafson, Staff Writer

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Awful person, exceptional artist. This seems to be a common theme recently brought to the forefront of the entertainment industry. The 2019 releases of documentaries Leaving Neverland and Surviving R. Kelly highlight victims that have been taken advantage of by celebrities, sparking a debate and demanding a conversation be had about whether it is acceptable to separate an artist from their art. The list of questionable actions by celebrities is endless, ranging from controversial tweets to abuse or assault cases. These raise eyebrows as society deems which artists are acceptable to listen to and which movies we can watch without being labeled as problematic or ignorant.

As a society, we are pressured to follow these unwritten rules calling for us to “cancel” a person the second one is accused of doing or saying something wrong. If someone listened to an artist for years and built a strong, emotional connection to that artist’s work, it could be difficult to stop listening in the case of allegations or controversy rising. Some people don’t understand this, because they just simply don’t have this same connection. I used to think it was not only unacceptable, but also impossible to separate an artist from the art they create, until I was placed in that position myself.

It should not be acceptable for people in the entertainment industry to continue using their place in society to take advantage of those less powerful and privileged than them. The artists themselves should be facing the punishment, not what they, along with a whole team of other people have created; like in July 2018, when Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn was fired from all future Guardians projects when pedophiliac tweets he posted from 2009 to 2012 were resurfaced. Punish the person themselves for whatever they have done and learn how to acknowledge their wrongs, without holding that against their art, or other people that enjoy it.

So much more goes into a song than the voice you hear on a track. There is an entire team of other musicians, producers, writers and engineers behind basically every song you listen to. The same goes for movies and TV shows when you take into account the actors, set designers, makeup artists, editors, and the dozens of other roles that put in endless hours of hard work into the production of a show or movie. Is it really reasonable to expect fans to stop watching a series entirely when one person involved with the creation is in the wrong?

Every piece of art has a different meaning to each individual, and deciding for someone else that they should “drop” an artist out of nowhere is not only unrealistic, but unfair to the person who genuinely enjoys what they create. As a dancer for the past thirteen years of my life, mostly hip hop and street dance oriented, there are more times than I can count that I have performed, choreographed, and learned pieces to Chris Brown songs, a hip hop and R&B artist notorious for the fight he got in with Rihanna in 2009, which left her face and arms covered in bruises. As a hip hop dancer, he’s almost impossible to ignore, and his music has played a huge role in my journey as a dancer. From as early as I can remember, I have been dancing to his music, from before I was at an age where I could truly understand him as a person and his unacceptable actions out of the studio and offstage. Because of the important impact his music has had in my life and passion as a dancer, I am continuously returning to his music. And when this happens, I find myself turning on private listening mode on Spotify, to avoid being labeled things I know I am not; because in today’s society, listening to a Chris Brown song makes me an abuse enablist, Rihanna hater, and victim silencer. But I am none of these things.

Before I even knew or cared to know who he was as a person, I was drawn to Brown’s voice and ability to dance. He is an all around great performer, watch any of his performances and there is no denying it. That is the side of him I have admired for the past ten years of my life, not the person who he is off stage, an abusive and manipulative person who takes advantage of his fame and position in society. People should have the ability to separate who someone is as an artist from who they are behind closed doors without other people judging and making assumptions about them. Because in reality, we are just an audience to an image that an artist creates of themselves that they want the world to see. In the words of one of the most controversial names in music, Kanye West, “name one genius that ain’t crazy.”