Should We Separate the Art from the Artist?

Izzy Rodney

Art can be such an amazing thing. Whether that be in television, film, books, or paintings, they are masterpieces that have the ability to transform lives. With art having millions of interpretations, art can be considered as something that is very personal and subjective to each person. However sometimes, these beautiful pieces of art are tainted by the sometimes criminal artists who have created them. So as audiences, are we able to separate the art from the artist and more importantly: should we? Izzy Rodney explores this question.

I love art. Any form of art. Having always been a creative person, the arts industry has always been a love of mine to the point where I may even enter the industry in the near future. Whether that’s going to the theatre, to the cinema to see the latest Spielberg film or even a trip to the Tate Modern whenever I’m in London – I love it all. However, over the past few years, many allegations and cases have arisen over artists and their work; leading to debates over whether we should continue supporting their work or boycott altogether.

If art is a personal expression from an artist, does this not mean that the relationship/meaning of the piece spawns from the artist themselves; meaning they cannot be separated?

It allows us all to consider numerous questions. For example, do I agree with what the creator has done?  Did the piece of work create happiness or pleasure for myself as a child/adult? Should we be idolising such people? And if art is a personal expression from an artist, does this not mean that the relationship/meaning of the piece spawns from the artist themselves; meaning they cannot be separated?

I have always been a fan of Picasso. With his abstract pieces of art being a worldwide sensation, it was sad to find out that despite using many female muses for his work, not only was he characterised as misogynistic but he was also reported to be physically, verbally and emotionally abusive to his romantic interests. These abusive and negative qualities also extend to quite a few celebrities that we once loved and adored. J K Rowling, the creator of one of the best-selling series and the famous wizarding world of Harry Potter fell from public grace in 2020 after her controversial tweets about the Transgender community. Whilst Rowling argued that her tweets were not “hateful” and even signed a letter (alongside many other public figures) that denounces “a vogue for public shaming and ostracism”, Rowling received a great amount of backlash; with many fans, co-stars and celebrities turning against her and the Harry Potter franchise.

Similarly, the singer R Kelly was recently found guilty of child sexual abuse in his second federal trial. Now I had not been a massive fan of R Kelly and didn’t really listen to his music nor know much about him, but it was only until I came to university that at many of my friends’ social gatherings, they would always skip the song ‘Ignition’. After asking why, they informed me of his criminal convictions and said I shouldn’t listen to this or any of his other songs because it was essentially funding and supporting him. I then would feel extremely guilty if I did listen or sing-along to any of his songs and so I stopped.

This was also the same with James Franco. I have pretty much watched all of his movies more than once. It was only until I heard about the allegations of his sexual misconduct against several students that I thought maybe I shouldn’t be supporting his films/work anymore. In an interview in 2021, Franco admitted that “over the course of my teaching, I did sleep with students, and that was wrong.” and also highlighted that he struggled with an alcohol and sex addiction – which he believes were the causes behind his past actions. To tackle his “sex addiction” he went to rehab and now he has upcoming movies in the next few years. However, the real issue is that his two million dollar lawsuit or his rehabilitation retreat doesn’t change what he did to those four students. Moreover, USA Today highlighted the controversy surrounding the term “sex addiction,” namely, that sex addiction had been conflated with sexual abuse . It’s been noted that many predators may be hiding under the guise of addiction to justify their abusive tactics as a ‘sex addict’.

Kevin Spacey was kicked off the series ‘House of Cards’ mid-season after facing several sexual assault allegations against young men. In one of those instances, the Star Trek star Anthony Rapp called out Spacey’s behaviour and accused him of making a sexual advance towards him at the age of 14 years old. Spacey then issued him a public apology on Twitter for his “drunken behaviour” and tried to deflect the situation by publicly confirming his sexuality. Kevin Spacey has since been “cancelled” and now is seen as one of the most prominent figures in the #MeToo movement. The #MeToo movement is a prime example of how publicly calling out powerful individuals can lead to a widespread cultural shift.

the question we have to ask ourselves is: do they deserve a second chance after what they have done?

But what I find interesting is how “cancel culture” can vary. This is because not everyone is cancelled equally” which is why I have issues over how celebrities such as James Franco, Kevin Spacey (who will also be starring in a new movie in 2022) and many others are often given the opportunity to “carry on” in the arts industry after an apology for their immoral actions. Nathan Miller, who helps celebrities and brands navigate crises, highlighted that “apologising is an ‘art not a science’ ”. More often than not, social media is what gives these celebrities redemption. However, if an apology is deemed insincere or disingenuous, the celebrity will often face further backlash and will be rejected.

Celebrities are seen as role models for millions of children and adults across the world and these mistakes that they make are often much more than a mistake. In fact, they are actions that are breaking the law. So the question we have to ask ourselves is: do they deserve a second chance after what they have done? Ultimately, it is your choice. Separating the art from the artist is inherently a personal decision. Whilst I can have my opinions on Franco, Weinstein or any other celebrity, my condemnation of their actions is a personal choice that I should not enforce on anyone else. It is completely down to you to decide whether you want to stop watching a film or supporting a specific franchise because of its creator but we have to remember that art will always be subjective.

Izzy Rodney

Featured image courtesy of FICOD oficial via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image license found here

In-article image courtesy of JK Rowling via Twitter. No changes were made to this image. 

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