You cannot separate the art from the artist

BY CASEY ROEPKE ’21

At the beginning of the summer, I sat down to watch a movie. After a few minutes of aimless scrolling through my Netflix queue, I settled on “The King’s Speech” — after all, how can you go wrong with Colin Firth? I put on my headphones, nestled back onto the couch and picked up my popcorn as the screen turned black, only for an unexpected and sickening logo to appear: “THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY.” I audibly groaned and closed my computer screen almost immediately.

For me, nothing can make watching a movie produced by Harvey Weinstein acceptable or worthwhile — even the promise of Colin Firth.

There has always been tension surrounding the question of whether one can separate the “art” from the “artist.” After the initial #MeToo movement burst into popular culture, everyone from the New York Times to my first-year seminar class was fixated on this central conundrum. Some of my classmates used personal connections to artists to justify continuing to support them; examples like “but Chris Brown’s music is so good!” or “Aziz Ansari is so funny!” were prominent in my classes and on social media. Still, I don’t feel comfortable with ignoring, excusing or condoning sexual abuse and harassment simply because the abuser is important to society in a different sphere.

Separating the artist from their art is impossible, especially when an abuser continues to benefit financially from their art, whether it be from box office sales, concert tickets or comedy tours. Even if someone is out of the limelight paying their social dues after misconduct is discovered, they can remain financially unharmed and relatively untouched by consequences for their actions.

Art is inextricably connected to the artist. For me, learning about an artist’s misconduct completely changes the meaning of the original art: a song no longer seems scandalously sensual once I discover harassment or abuse behind the lyrics. A large consequence of the #MeToo movement has been observing how abuse pervades even the highest levels of art production and development, becoming inextricably linked to the artist. For me, the easiest and most ethical solution is to stop consuming media by known abusers.

As with many issues, others may not agree with my solution. The lines between artistic endeavor and consuming media as leisure is one thing, but using art to teach is different. Taking film classes post-#MeToo has been a varied experience. My professor for Introduction to Film, Robin Blaetz, took an approach that I loved: she screened films with female directors, both to highlight the influence of women in a historically toxic industry, but also to counter the powerful and abusive men who controlled much of the film production business. However, just last week, a different film professor introduced a movie clip by explaining that he really didn’t want to show a Woody Allen film because of his alleged assaults, but he still feels that this particular scene was influential in filmmaking and was a good example of the topic of the class.

Can you separate the art from the artist in an educational setting? Or is that furthering the culture of unhealthy power dynamics and control over an entire art form? My personal beliefs about learning from an abusive yet talented artist are blurred. But I can find solace with a blanket ban: no more movies, music or other art by known abusers. When I learn that someone has been accused of sexual violence or misconduct, I believe the person speaking up and I cease all support, active or passive, of the artist. Believe me, this has not been a big sacrifice: there are countless talented artists who are not abusers.

It’s as simple as that.

Mount Holyoke News

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