The Arts and Moral Bankruptcy

Here’s a surprise to absolutely no one at all: Miley Cyrus is a controversial topic lately. Ever since her divergence from Disney Channel-child-star role-model several years ago, her career has been the topic of non-stop debate. More conservative homes and families have demonized her for her actions, while more tolerant groups have accepted her radical split from her old self. Whatever the prevailing opinion may be, the dichotomy between the family-friendly Hannah Montana and the independent Miley Cyrus begs an interesting question: is it possible to separate an artist’s actions from her art?

Unfortunate as it may be, artists as a whole sometimes get a bad rap. Many are well-known philanthropists, like Bono, lead singer of U2 and environmental activist. One of Jon Bon Jovi’s greatest non-musical achievements is the founding of the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, and actress Angelina Jolie is well known for her work as a Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N. Refugee Agency. Wherever you turn, it’s relatively easy to find the creatives who love their fellow man.

Of course, there are two sides to every coin. For every artist-philanthropist working to make the world a better place, there’s a bad apple spoiling the bunch. A prime example of this is Ian Watkins, lead vocalist for the band Lostprophets. The alternative metal band was formed in 1997, and produced five studio albums in their time together. Though somewhat unknown, Lostprophets were undeniably talented and clearly had a bright future.

In 2012, Ian Watkins was charged with crimes far too disturbing to print. I will spare you the very dark details, and I recommend that you do not pursue the topic any further if you have a weak stomach. Needless to say, Watkins was found guilty and sentenced to 35 years in prison, thus ending the band’s story for good.

I was left in a dilemma—one indicative of a much larger social issue in the art world. How is it possible to reconcile the detestable actions of a singer, actor, or performer that is so well loved? Fans of the late Michael Jackson (myself being one of them) know this pain all too well. The music that Jackson created brought the world together, but the man who created it was rooted in extremely poor life choices (or at least appearances.) I’ve discussed this reality many times with friends and family, and it’s an incredibly divisive issue—naturally, it has taken me quite a long time to figure out just how I feel about Watkins, Jackson, and any other artist that falls under this umbrella.

Here’s where I fall on the issue: Even if a person is morally bankrupt, it is still okay to enjoy the work that they publish. This might not be a popular conclusion to draw, but it’s the only way to come to terms with the pain caused by the actions of those we look up to. Morals and ethics are tricky little things—it’s possible to live a good life with them, and it’s possible to live a good life without them. Regardless of the worldview a person holds, however, there will always be someone who disagrees. Vilifying artists’ work in light of disagreeable life choices only leads to closed-mindedness. By no means do I believe the crimes of Watkins and the supposed acts of Jackson are acceptable, but I do very much believe in the value that their art still holds.

Earlier in this column, I alluded to the life and career of Miley Cyrus. Though not a criminal by any means, Cyrus is still very often criticized for the path that her life has taken. It saddens me to see such a talented woman be crucified by critics, especially when the music that she produces is at the very forefront of pop culture innovation. It is for this reason that I implore all readers to think about the happiness an artist can bring to the world before beating said artist’s reputation into the ground. In the words of the great Kevin Smith, “Discourage an artist, you get absolutely nothing in return. Ever.” If critics would, for only one moment, take this idea into consideration, the world might be that much better of a place.

Featured Image By RCA Records