Photo: Courtesy of Tribune News Service

Column: Enjoying art from problematic artists not wrong

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, it seems that almost no figure in the entertainment industry is beyond suspicion. A depressingly large amount of men and women have come forward and shed light on the seedy reality of the entertainment business: Sexual abuse and harassment run rampant, and often the perpetrators of these crimes are able to carry out their abhorrent behavior without fear of repercussion.  

The #MeToo campaign came about in an effort to end the culture of sexual harassment, both within Hollywood and beyond, and has already produced some big names. Thanks to the brave whistle-blowers, it is now known that once beloved figures like Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K.
among many others — are, in reality, disgusting predators. The whole ordeal has been shocking and deeply saddening and it raises the old question about separating the art from the artist.

It’s uncomfortable and upsetting to find out that figures you've respected or admired have committed inexcusable crimes. Now that we know about Spacey’s predatory behavior, the question of how to approach his work as an actor has people understandably conflicted. The actor is undeniably very talented, and his work in both film and television are deserving of the praise it has received. Still, the idea of watching a movie like American Beauty in the wake of disturbing truths about the lead actor just doesn’t sit right with some people.  

Likewise, now that Louis C.K. has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, his stand-up routine — which occasionally featured rape jokes, among other things — just isn’t funny to some people anymore. Immediately after the news broke, a deluge of tweets poured forth lamenting how they could no longer in good conscience be a fan of the iconic comedian. As more and more figures are inevitably outed as sexual predators, the issue of how to approach the great work of awful people will likely remain in many people’s minds.  

The issue of separating the art from the artist is a difficult one and has no single overarching answer. Each person is different and no two people are guaranteed to react to the same news in the same way. As for myself, I can separate the art from the artist and enjoy the work of otherwise despicable people. Wagner’s virulent antisemitism and Picasso’s abusive behavior doesn't diminish the greatness and beauty of their art. I can still recognize The Usual Suspects as a great and well-acted film, even if I think one of the actors in the film deserves to go to prison.  

Art, at a certain point, goes beyond the artist. While the experiences and personality of the artist obviously plays a big role in shaping their art, art is ultimately something that you can subjectively appreciate and interpret without concern for the artists' inspiration or backstory. This is more difficult in regards to actors or comedians, but it isn’t impossible. Just because Spacey is a scumbag doesn’t mean you need to give up watching House of Cards. While this issue varies by the person, I’ll still be able to laugh at Louis C.K. jokes, even if I now think of the man himself as disgusting.  



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