“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
People love to live by this phrase. There has always been a universal moral understanding that everything is not what meets the eye. And that, I can appreciate.
But this mentality, which manifests itself in pop culture with characters like the “ugly” version of Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries to the handsome yet arrogant Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, somehow fails to translate to how we perceive the people we admire — or don’t admire — in a nasty way.
This lands us at the age old question: should we separate the artist from the art?
I had trouble answering this myself, so I turned to my classmates for some insight.
“Well, yeah. What does some paint on paper have to do with what type of person the artist is?”
I’d usually try to counter this reasoning with: “So could you appreciate Hitler’s paintings?”
And that’s where the conversations began to sway.
Some reply, “No way!” Others, “Yeah, I could.” Most, however, are too caught up in the morals-versus-logic tug-of-war that the question struck them with. I felt the same way.
But I found that this is not a matter of finding art to be pretty or ugly. This is a matter of supporting the works of a rapist, a murderer, a serial killer, a child molester, or even a man who killed 6 million Jewish people.
It will make us all uncomfortable to have to connect the works we admire to those who made them. I would much rather, as much as I’m sure everyone else would, appreciate a work of art as simply what is it in a tangible fashion — as beauty, as pleasure, as a masterpiece. But, when that overwhelmingly ignorant appreciation translates into the accumulation of fame and profit, it is no longer the piece of art which is praised, but the creator.
The creator is now set on a pedestal — no longer is just their work validated, they are as well.
And this is exactly when judging a book by its content instead of its cover comes into play: when the great work that meets the eye does not align with the person who created it.
Consider the infamous ‘Chris Brown beats Rihanna’ mania that swept the media in 2009. Here we have a well known and admired artist who beat his girlfriend to the point of blood and bruises. Realistically, Brown’s career should have ended as soon as the photos of a tattered Rihanna appeared in the public eye. Yet here we all stand in 2017, with Brown’s 2015 album “Royalty” having landed a spot on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Albums for 41 weeks in early 2016, with a new album set to release in a month, according to Billboard.com.
How did he manage to keep his fame?
Separation of the art from the artist — that’s how. We have a domestic abuser dominating the R&B and hip-hop charts, and Americans are allowing it. We have allowed the art to dominate over the artist when in reality, all the checks, all the popularity and all the praise is being directed at the artist — the abuser.
Think about that for a bit.
Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, R. Kelly, Evel Knievel, Floyd Mayweather, Dr. Dre, John Travolta, Kobe Bryant, Brad Pitt, Mike Tyson, Al Gore, Tupac Shakur, Charlie Sheen, O.J. Simpson, Snoop Dogg, Mel Gibson, Emma Roberts, Ozzy Osbourne, Slash, Christian Slater, Donald Trump.
This is not about the wrong-doing of one or two people. This is about allowing rape, murder and abuse to be belittled, disregarded and forgotten because Americans can’t, for the life of them, admit the wrongdoings of their favorite celebrity if it means they can no longer enjoy their work..
Also, before the thought even crosses your mind, don’t dare claim that these people have apologized, learned their lesson and are well deserving of our forgiveness. There are victims who will be forever be traumatized, living with the knowledge that the person who inflicted such horrible, horrible experience upon them still get to make millions in music, movie and other industries. (Don’t forget that Chris Brown also proceeded to abuse former girlfriend Karrueche Tran years after his formal apology during the Rihanna scandal.)
And that’s why we shouldn’t separate the artist from the art. Because I can’t stand for Americans excusing extreme wrongdoings so they can listen to one more Chris Brown song or buy Adolf Hitler’s paintings, and you shouldn’t either.
Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t separate the artist from the art.