It’s Time To Separate The Art From The Artist ('s Politics)

Feeling pressured to swear off Taylor Swift after she started dating “#PfizerPartner” Travis Kelce? You should be wary about allowing ideologues to police your interests, lest you give them more power. Here’s your wake-up call to separate art from the artist.

By Andrea Mew6 min read
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In the not-so-very-distant past, your everyday man or woman didn’t view every element of their life through a political lens. Frankly, the excess of free time that many of us in the 21st century take for granted is to blame; in prior centuries or even decades, the simple automation that now streamlines our lives wasn’t on the table. 

When a mid-century homemaker tuned her transistor radio to one of the few available stations, she wasn’t considering whether the crooner whose vocals would dazzle her family after dinnertime voted in alignment with her political leanings. She might not have even thought much about politics, not only because it was less common for a woman like her to care, but because she was probably way too preoccupied with running a household, among other responsibilities.

Today, more people are in the workforce than ever before, yet because we’ve got so much time on our hands to get engaged in political discourse, people on the left and the right find it way too hard to divorce their brain from politics for even just a moment. We all need to chill out a bit and learn how to separate art from the artist because, otherwise, there’s no real art to gain pleasure from. Honestly, if we were to investigate each great artist’s morality throughout time, we’d find that many were “problematic” or not in perfect alignment with our values.

Is Taylor Swift a Man-Hating Feminist? And Does It Matter?

2023 has proven to be the year of Taylor Swift after she has spent over a decade making a robust and arguably diverse discography. She worked hard to build up an army of Swifties, a fanbase that has its vocal megafans but also seemed to bring several dormant devotees out of the woodworks over the summer during her Eras Tour and the following film tour to commemorate the event.

She’s got jaw-dropping levels of global influence. The Eras Tour alone was projected to generate $4 billion in revenue, but the accompanying theater movie is also setting box office revenue records despite the movie only being shown Thursdays through Sundays. Some artists (like Swift) have such broad appeal that no matter their own political leanings, people across all demographics or self-prescribed identities can enjoy their art. 

“Taylor Swift has broken conservatives’ brains,” columnist Edith Olmsted recently asserted in the New Republic.

Well, because Swift has come clean about her progressive ideologies in past election cycles, urged Swifties to register to vote, and is even now on California Governor Gavin Newsom’s radar as a “profoundly powerful” voice for “getting young people activated,” staunch conservative voices online have been hung up for some time now about anyone right-of-center who listens to her music.

Should you beat yourself up in self-flagellation and shame over every musician, actor, author, or director who votes Democrat if you vote Republican? Are you complicit in the ills of Marxist movements if one of your favorite singers or bands donated bail funds during the Black Lives Matter (BLM) riots, like Harry Styles, BTS, Rihanna, or Justin Bieber did? 

No, you shouldn’t condemn your own musical preferences and feel pressure to ditch art you genuinely gain enjoyment from. Furthermore, you shouldn’t try to force yourself to like something just because other people in “your camp” support it. 

It’s all well and good that conservatives fell head over heels for Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” song – so eager to chant that he was one of us – but I couldn’t be bothered to listen to bluegrass (or country) even if I tried. It’s just not my jam. Anthony’s viral song did contain conservative talking points, so if a liberal bluegrass fan was to say that the lyrics didn’t really resonate with them, that’s entirely fair game. 

I really respect “conservative alternatives” and do honestly feel like the free market gives us a uniquely American opportunity to compete with one another. Platforms like PublicSquare that aggregate freedom-loving brands and pose as an Amazon rival deserve much more traffic. However, we can’t always just be on the offense instead of organically creating good alternatives with no underlying agenda. 

When we nitpick over what should be mostly neutral media, that all-or-nothing mentality only fosters deeper division between the camps. When we cannot separate the artist’s personal political leanings from their craft, art as an accouterment to sweeten the deal of life and cultivate a warmer sense of community simply ceases to exist.

Your “Role Models” All Have Their Own Human Flaws

Let me take you through a thought experiment. Recall how I said earlier that if we investigated each “great” throughout history, we’d find a lot to take issue with. Sure, that can apply to politics, but that also applies to cultural figures as well. Many painters, sculptors, musicians, actors, authors, and more were very troubled individuals and definitely not the best role models. But you can’t deny that they didn’t create wonderful works of art that, in some cases, have changed the course of history.

World-renowned composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart became a concert pianist at the young age of 6 and, despite only creating music for 30 years, he’s responsible for over 600 works which set the standards for musicians for generations to come. Mozart was, however, an eccentric personality known for a crude sense of bathroom humor. 

Don’t believe me? There’s an entire, robust Wikipedia page called “Mozart and scatology” which details how several of his choral pieces include lyrics about defecating in bed or literally licking butts

Yes, he was crass, vulgar, and oddly obsessed with potty humor – none of which interests me, but I still get chills every time I listen to the “Lacrimosa” of Mozart’s Requiem.

Furthermore, Mozart was supposedly a devout Catholic but also became a high-ranking Freemason toward the end of his life. Should Lutherans, observant Jews, or atheists swear off ever going to the opera to hear Don Giovanni? Following that train of thought, should non-Catholics isolate themselves from Michaelangelo’s works of art and try to pretend that what he created for the Catholic Church was not breathtakingly beautiful? 

Recognition of beauty is not a sign of absolute endorsement. Michelangelo’s own repertoire of work for the Vatican was so massive, taking place over several decades, that he worked for nine pontiffs: Julius II to Pius IV. Do you think his personal values were somehow in perfect alignment with both the more secular Pope Julius II or the more moderate Pope Pius IV?

They certainly weren’t (in fact, some of his art was considered lewd or heretical), but he still left humanity with his gorgeous renditions of the Pieta, The Last Judgment, and the dazzling ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, among other works.

Politics were certainly different in these aforementioned eras, as monarchies and churches ruled over the masses instead of elected officials. Taking pride in your own national identity and perhaps creating homages to your country through art was common among the greats; classical music was full of nationalism from Dvorak to Chopin to Tchaikovsky to Wagner and more. But because Wagner’s nationalistic compositions are associated with Nazi-era Germany, does that restrict anyone who strongly disavows Nazism from finding beauty in his music?

Every so often, people on the internet like to dig up how iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel had a relationship with a high-ranking German military man during World War II and how she was allegedly a Nazi operative. They’ll shame people for liking Chanel products in 2023, despite the fact that the namesake of the brand died in 1971. She had an incredible impact on the fashion industry and that should be viewed distinct from her own personal past.

Be Wary When Ideology Trumps Art and Entertainment

Though most modern artists appear to be quite liberal (or at least the ones who are vocal about their ideologies are), there are still many pop culture icons that progressives may not realize were or are conservative. And frankly, I don’t think that progressives should shelter themselves from these people’s work. 

Rock star Elvis Presley was a Republican and friends with President Richard Nixon. Crooner Frank Sinatra left the Democrat camp and became a Republican. Pop icon Britney Spears was once a registered Republican. Rapper LL Cool J is a vocal supporter of the Republican party. Even Prince, who is commonly misunderstood as some gay icon, was actually a very conservative Christian.

On a personal note, I happen to like a lot of media which people might otherwise code as “liberal” or “progressive.” I’ve got a pretty experimental sense of fashion which often seems at odds with that of my conservative colleagues. Then, there’s my taste in music which spans from dreamy synth pop artists like Magdalena Bay or Grimes to avant-rock like David Sylvian to orchestral and more. Similarly, I watch a lot of films that would be considered “indie” or “art house,” as well as many foreign ones and Quentin Tarantino-esque films.

But take Tarantino, for example, a director who has donated money to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and supported President Obama. While appearing on the talk show Real Time with Bill Maher to promote his film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, he shared a really poignant message summarizing what has gone wrong in the world of art and entertainment. "There has become a thing that's gone on, especially in this last year, where ideology is more important than art. Ideology trumps art. Ideology trumps individual effort. Ideology trumps good. Ideology trumps entertaining," Tarantino said.

This is an advent of our modern times – and it’s not a good one. Certainly in some cases, an artist’s morality or political values are meant to show through their work, but it’s not always that deep. Not every female musician is trying to make some big feminist statement when she goes on stage, so why exhaust yourself by trying to make a mountain out of a molehill?

Without a doubt, you’re well within your right to boycott certain art if the artist has been caught doing awful, heinous things. R. Kelly getting sentenced to 30 years in prison after being convicted for literal sex trafficking is a good example of this. But you’ve got to see the difference between organized sexual abuse and presidential ballot selections. Roll your eyes over the latter and feel free to critique their political leanings all you want, but keep in mind that you shouldn’t be looking to celebrities to affirm your own values.

Another thing to keep in mind is that people aren’t fixed objects. You’re probably quite different from the you from middle school or perhaps even the you from last year. I personally underwent a huge political transformation and, as mentioned before, even famous left-leaning celebrities like Sinatra have become conservatives. I mean, was it on your 2023 bingo card that Kat Von D would profess her love for Jesus Christ and work on refining her aggressively alternative image? 

Ultimately, why should we separate art from the artist? Because really good art, actual art, reveals something about humanity and the human experience, about the good, the true, and the beautiful – things that are transcendent and can speak to all humans, regardless of their political leaning or even morality. We’re meant to interact with the art itself – not the artist.

Closing Thoughts

At the end of the day, the radical left actually wants you to hate them. Average left-leaning individuals likely don’t even think twice about your politics, but woke progressives like to poke the proverbial bear because your reaction makes them pull out their victim card. Inevitably, they’ll use that victimhood mentality against you to assert power and take away your freedoms. 

"All art is political. In tense, fractious times – like our current moment – all art is political. But even during those times when politics and the future of our country itself are not the source of constant worry and anxiety, art is still political,” said playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda when he, perhaps accidentally, laid out the end goal of Marxism. "Art lives in the world, and we exist in the world, and we cannot create honest work about the world in which we live without reflecting it. If the work tells the truth, it will live on."

If constant division and inability to get along gets us feeling understandably down in the dumps, we shouldn’t work overtime to make it worse. Having our own, safe, “red-pilled” options are all well and good, but we shouldn’t be so fragile that we feel guilt when we sing along to a catchy Taylor Swift song or want to watch a buzz-worthy film by a liberal director. Why should we rob ourselves of the happiness that comes from consuming art we enjoy just because the artist doesn’t think exactly like us? Not being able to separate art from the artist will be the death of real art itself.

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