Separating the Art from the Artist


The Importance of New Creators: Separating Art from the Artist

By Grace Gay

In October of 2017, revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct emerged. Since then, many prominent men within the entertainment and arts industries have faced similar allegations, as women under them have spoken out. A tag on Twitter, #MeToo, emerged as a way for women to testify to their lifelong experiences of abuse. As sexual harassment has become an increasingly discussed public issue in the arts industry, I’ve noticed a key question emerge: “Can you separate the art from the artist?”

The answer is, unfortunately, no. The problematic elements of a creator’s life or actions are always going to affect how you interact with art. But that does not mean it’s wrong to enjoy art that has problematic elements. Rather, we should address the impact of the creator on the art, appreciate the art itself for what it can offer, and move forward, using the things learned from that work to create new art. Likewise, the #MeToo movement won’t end sexual assault or discrimination, but it’s a step towards reducing it. And a key part of that progress is to stop excusing the behavior of the powerful. The current climate is a dramatic shift; harassment has been dealt with and tolerated for years, often excused, as a sacrifice for the art, or because it feels like an isolated incident. Values of society have changed to finally look at the violence inflicted on the powerless and find it inexcusable.

It’s time art should, too. Marginalized communities have been dealing with a popular culture that has demonized them for years; the question becomes more prominent now as the controllers of artistic culture are forced to confront it. Throwing out all art isn’t the balm that needs to be administered to heal our society. Rather, creating new stories that aren’t mainly from the dominant white male perspective should be prioritized. Bringing in innovative views and creators can breathe new life into an industry based on tired tropes and old stories and breed art that, instead of participating in systems of abuse, critiques them and invigorates storytelling with fresh, sharp narratives. Hopefully, the future will see works of art that are able to exist completely free of truly harmful impacts.

When you’re thinking about the work of Harvey Weinstein, wondering if it’s okay to ever watch Lord of the Rings again, it’s not so much a question of, “Is this work problematic?” as “Do the societal benefits of this thing outweigh the harm?”

Here’s the thing: movies are just movies. They’re not necessities; you won’t be physically harmed if you never watch Lord of the Rings again. But when you excuse ‘great’ artists and the harm they do so you can enjoy a two hour adventure film, they are offered an opportunity to hurt more people. The pain of real people is not worth a few good films.

Uma Thurman, when she spoke about her experience with Weinstein to the New York Times, said “I stand as both a person who was subjected to it and a person who was then also part of the cloud cover”. Society at large stands in the same position: the perpetrator and the victim.

The way to fix this gargantuan problem in society isn’t to throw out everything that exists, but to start with small changes. The entertainment industry should focus on making new great films. The stories that have been told in the movies, in literature, have been largely from the dominant white male perspective. Brining in innovative views and creators can breathe new life into an industry based on tropes and old stories and breed art that, instead of allowing abuse, tries to stop it. The amazing work that can be done in this transformative field can already be seen in the achievements of art like The Handmaid’s Tale.

Little girls are watching. This is a kind of wound of society needs to explore to help girls grow beyond their pain. In the past, “One man’s joke is another girl’s diary entry”, as Leslie Jamison writes in her essay “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain”. New creators can change who the butt of the joke is, find ways to create art that don’t hurt others. No, this won’t end sexual harassment- but it will give us a way to deal with it. And we won’t have to keep forgiving art.

Eish Sumra