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This music critic says it’s time to update our art consumption ethical standards

In this #MeToo era, can we still separate art from the person who made it? New Yorker music critic Amanda Petrusich says that according to the "old rules," how an artist behaves or believes should be off-limits. Petrusich offers her humble opinion on why that way of thinking is outdated and dangerous.

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  • John Yang:

    In this MeToo era, there is artistic question to consider: How do we think about Charlie Rose interviews, Miramax movies, or "Cosby Show" reruns?

    In other words, should we separate the art from the artist?

    Earlier this week, the influential rapper XXXTentacion was murdered in Florida. Critics and fans call him a gifted artist, but he had also been awaiting trial on various criminal charges. So, what do we make of his music and of the work of other artists whose behavior has been called into question?

    Tonight, "New Yorker" music critic Amanda Petrusich shares her Humble Opinion on how we should answer those questions.

  • Amanda Petrusich:

    For decades, if not centuries, art critics have repeated an odd dictum: Always separate the art from the artist.

    It's a funny rule, because so much of what's been canonized as triumphant or profound work is considered successful in part because it is personal.

    In my experience, if we can't find the humanity in something, it means far less to us.

    As a music critic, a huge part of my job consists of contextualizing a song or album in its cultural moment and on a creative continuum, figuring out how it works and what it means in relation to everything around it.

    But, according to the old rules, the artist himself who he is, what he does, how he behaves, what he believes, should remain off-limits. It's become increasingly obvious that this way of thinking is outdated and dangerous.

    We can't simply cleave a song from the consciousness that created it because we like it, or because it's fun to dance to, or because we don't want to reckon with the idea that bad people can make beautiful things.

    It's on me to consider the ethical implications of my fandom. This means disavowing the work of artists who have been credibly or repeatedly accused of heinous crimes or whose behavior over time indicates some deep moral fissure.

    The streaming service Spotify briefly banned music by two artists who have been accused of horrifying physical and sexual violence, the R&B singer R. Kelly and the rapper XXXTentacion, on its curated play lists.

    I have enjoyed records by both of these artists. I have considered their work important and visionary. But I'm uncomfortable with supporting them financially and I'm even more uncomfortable with tacitly approving or tolerating violence against women.

    This is different than censorship. This is making a choice to be explicit about what we as listeners and consumers and fans will and will not accept.

    Spotify eventually restored those artists to its play lists, saying it didn't want to play judge and jury. These deliberations aren't simple. Is it easier to pretend that the art and artist who made it are distinct? Of course. Is the process of determining who is decent vs. who is monstrous going to be clean, or easy or fun? Certainly not.

    In my career, I have spoken with dozens of musicians, writers and filmmakers who have talked about the creative process as a kind of sense-making experience. For many artists, it's simply how they figure out who they are and what they think.

    We can't pretend that songs or books or television shows just appear fully formed in the world, independent of any ideology or intention. The art is the artist. You don't get one without the other.

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