People then demand that I accept these words and images, or ignore them--as if either of these recipes aren't destructive. Acceptance means self-destruction. Ignoring only works if humans are not interconnected and words/images (and interpretations of these words/images) do not impact others and then impact me, by proxy, whether or not I personally and individually "ignored" them or not.
There seems to be this status of "untouchable" that some artists want to reside in, not taking accountability for what messages are in their work or even what motivations (both internal and social) lead to their work.
The truth is, artists are not inherently noble and are capable of the same biases, stereotypes, and prejudices that other humans are. In fact, some artists actually amplify societal ills for the purpose of malice. Some amplify societal ills for the purpose of education and change, but fail miserably because of paternalistic motivations, socio-political incompetence, seeking to "lead" (instead of being an ally) and speak for those who can speak for themselves and/or lack of sensitivity/empathy.
Art itself is not inherently noble. Art doesn't necessarily stop being "art" when it is vile, cruel and purposely wicked. Many people want the definition of art itself to exclude cruelty, but again, if art is not inherently noble, it can include that which is purposely designed to marginalize, stereotype, abuse and erase. Again, art itself is not inherently or automatically noble. It depends on its expression, interpretation and impact amidst the cultural climate which it is created in. Art can be transformational, but not all transformations are designed for or expressed as that for the individual or social greater good. Art can be negatively transformational and reinforce stereotypes (see what Susan Sontag wrote about this) just as it can be positively transformational and reinforce truth and expansion of ideas, as well as challenge the negative.
Art is never "just art." Reflections of the human condition meant to please, provoke, titillate, enrage, arouse or create any other discernible emotion is not "just" anything. Historically and culturally significant images and interpretations of those images construct and deconstruct societal ideals often held at an esteemed regard, even at times when such ideals are desperately wicked. (Read more about this.) There must be critique of art beyond "is it good" (technically) to "how does this art impact society in a positive way, challenge existing ideals or reinforce hatred in the most negative way?"
Art created for and/or used as a political tool (and the personal IS political) for solidarity or social justice "alliance" cannot use the same images and symbols in the same exact negative way that art used for destruction and social injustice is, and not be subject to critique through a socio-political lens, much beyond a technical critique. The burden cannot solely be on the audience to view two pieces of art that look the same and convey the same negative message and determine that 1 is "good" because of the artist's "good intention" and "alliance" with social justice and one is bad because of the other artist's "bad intention" if they're using art to promote or reinforce injustice. More than the intention matters. The final visual expression and array of viewer interpretations will always have more impact than unseen artist intention. The expression is the art, the interpretation are the views--the intention, however, often becomes irrelevant. Though the artist cannot control how the audience interprets art, especially for socio-political commentary, the artist must challenge themselves to go BEYOND expected visually stereotypical norms IF in fact the artist is challenging such norms. (i.e. - HOW are you really challenging negative imagery with...more negative imagery...that looks exactly like the first set of imagery?) Such a challenge is not possible when said artist is not examining existing systems of privilege and persecution and their own experience and position on this social continuum. Self-examination and evaluation as continual emotional, cultural and social practice is the true art that all artists must challenge themselves with before/during/after each time they touch a pen, laptop, brush, canvas, mic, camera, or any other tool for artistic expression.
The question is not whether or not art is still "art" if it is vile and meant for harm. The question is will the artist run under the label of "artist" as a source of social absolution of responsibility for their art's impact on society at large? Do they blow off critics (especially those who examine art beyond technical goodness and through a socio-political lens) as "haters" or will they really consider the gravity of the impact of what they say and create? Do they recognize that art CAN actually harm, whether such art is motivated by cultural incompetence (which is often what is behind a "good" intention but gets sideswiped by the artist not checking and evaluating their own position amidst social privilege and persecution as a continuum) or social maliciousness? Are they willing to spit on humanity just to wear the label "artist?" Do they even recognize humanity beyond their own personalized perceptions? These are the questions that matter. These are the ones that have to be considered beyond what gets labeled as "art" or not.