Thompson: We can’t separate the art from the artist

Madison Thompson

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

In today’s world, the line between the personal and the political is constantly blurred. Music is one way we connect the two and gain a better understanding of each.


In the age of social media, we know all too well that someone’s mistakes can end up on the forefront of the internet in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, artists are no exception.

According to Tom Morello, guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, all music is political because it either supports or challenges the status quo. Separating the art from the artist is not a new concept, and it has been explored by many philosophers over the course of human history.

The music industry is a breeding ground for troubled souls. Consider the life and career of R. Kelly. He’s often referred to as a musical genius — the king of R&B. In 2010, Billboard named him the No. 1 R&B and hip hop artist of the last quarter-century. This was eight years after being charged with 21 counts of child pornography in 2002.

Kelly has more than a dozen lawsuits, mostly involving young girls and sexual misconduct, yet he was still praised as a revolutionary artist. His former friend and personal assistant Demetrius Smith wrote a memoir, “The Man Behind the Man,” in which he states, “Underage girls had proven to be (Kelly’s) weakness. He was obsessed. Sickly addicted.”

Personally, because of these allegations, I’ve stopped listening to Kelly. Of course it’s a bummer to not get down to the remix of “Ignition,” but the feeling of unease I get knowing I’m enjoying music created by an abuser is enough to put me off for a lifetime. 

What does it say about ours and future generations when we allow that sort of behavior to fall behind the curtain?”

The same can be said of Chris Brown. In 2009, he was infamously charged with assault after attacking his girlfriend at the time, Rihanna.

Continuing to praise artists who have knowingly engaged in atrocious behaviors is a waste of energy. There are always more good songs, TV shows and movies out there. We should prioritize artists who not only make good art, but who are good people and who do it for the right reasons. 

We should make space for celebrating artists who enrich the world with their creativity and character. It’s not out of the question to demand both from people we give that much power to.

What does it say about ours and future generations when we allow that sort of behavior to fall behind the curtain?

Some might argue that it’s unfair to miss out on the experience of enjoying good music or a good movie because the person involved is an abuser. The fact of the matter is that these people continue to profit off our involvement with their work, and putting an end to that makes them less powerful, if ever so slightly.


If you can listen to Kelly without feeling the least bit disgusted, maybe it’s time to consider why that is.

Madison Thompson can be reached at or on Twitter at @heyymadison.