Imagine finding out that your favorite artist is a racist. A convict? A misogynist? A sexual harasser? These are the types of scenarios many people have been struggling with in the aftermath of scandals involving Harvey Weinstein, James Franco,Kevin Spacey, and other formerly praised artists accused of sexual predation. And although this is an imperative time for victims of sexual assault, amongst the rubble of years of silence and subordination finally falling down, we are left wondering what to do with the art they have created? Is it truly worth saving?
Should we separate the art from the artist? This question, slightly more philosophical than expected, invites an important conversation about the art created by transgressors. Although we can all agree that their actions are horrid and inexcusable, do we condemn the art they have created as well? Or do we regard their art as a separate entity entirely?
It is understandable why we would want to separate the art from the artist. Tyler Coates, a senior editor at Esquire, says that we want to pardon the art,”…because we love the books and the movies and the TV and the music. Those things shape our identities; we are what we love.” Therefore, when we find out the man playing the hero on TV isn’t actually as heroic as we had hoped, it gets personal.
But we must consider the message we want to send. We should not pardon the art created by predators because by doing so we are mitigating change. Perhaps this erasure of work by sexual harassers is a small price to pay if it results in reform. By boycotting the art made by these abusers, we are sending a message to the entertainment industry that regulations are highly ill-defined and vulnerable to abuse. If we truly want to protect creative industries from further malpractice, we must sacrifice the art in order to focus our energies on moving forward.
To add on, in order to exercise retribution and deterrence, we must hurt the profits of these artists by cutting them off at the source. They must not receive the same platform and affluence they once had because when they made that horrid choice, they forfeited that right. As informed and smart consumers, we must not fund abusers for their work. According to Forbes, Kevin Spacey stands to lose up to $6.5 million in future earnings following his sexual harassment scandal. This is how we, as consumers, send a message that these acts are not only immoral but will be followed by punitive and vindictive financial suffering.
At the end of the day, however, it all ties back to our obligation as humans to act ethically. David Barker, a theatre professor at Arizona State University states that “Regardless we all have an obligation to be ethical and respect other people regardless of their background and makeup. And that simply isn’t separate from anyone’s work.” Whether you are an educator, a doctor, clergy, or an actor you are held to the same human moral principles.
But with that said, artists with notoriety have a greater responsibility than the average person to act ethically. These artists hold an important platform that has the power influence their large audiences. Yet instead of promoting empathy, humility, and love, they are showing us lecherous behavior. This is not the message we want to send to our children.
As a theatre student, I’ve always been appreciative of art in its entirety. I have laughed at the many Disney Pixar movies created by John Lasseter. I have admired the culinary precision of chef Mario Batali. I have started my day listening to news reported by Matt Lauer. I have watched Kevin Spacey host the Tony Awards.
These people once served as role models for myself and youth all over the world. In the interest of raising children in a world where they are taught to respect one another, we cannot continue to idolize and support their work. Despite their creations existing beyond the scope of the artists themselves, there is always a glimmer of reality grounded in the art.
To be a role model you cannot just be a good artist. You also need to be a good human.
It is time to stop separating the art from the artist, even though it is tempting to do so. We need to not only boycott art created by harassers, but also shine the light on other artists deserving our true praise; the actors, writers, and directors that use their talent to help others, truly serving their industry and society. Despite it all, it is agreed that humans are complicated creatures. But behind the superficial defects of the human condition, great works of art teaches us that just as humans are capable of doing bad things, we are also capable of doing good.
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