Can we ever separate the artist from their art?

More important than can we is the question should we?

As more and more stories come out, fallout from the Weinstein story, and more people come forward in ways that survivors read as sympathetic to the aggressor, I find myself wondering, for example, will I ever be able to watch Matt Damon act and think, “damn that was a fine performance” or will my brain constantly be stuck on, “that douchecanoe totally made it easy for Weinstein to keep assaulting women.” My instinct says it will be the latter, at least for a while.

I’ve faced this many times over the years. I used to be a huge fan of Michael Jackson until his questionable behavior and various allegations came to light. There were years when I couldn’t deal with listening to his music, my brain just kept saying, “what he did was not cool.” I still cannot watch films by Woody Allen or Roman Polanksi, full stop. I stopped reading anything by Orson Scott Card, despite loving several of his books when I first read them.

Part of the difficulty is that once you know that someone is an awful human (racist, sexist, or whathaveyou) it is hard not to see what they create, or the projects they choose to fund and support, without applying that lens.

Sometimes, I can separate it, but it takes time and distance. Some creators I can separate from their art because I suppose my brain excuses them for being a product of the era in which they lived. And yet there are those who, even in less tolerant eras, went against the grain; Mark Twain managed to write brilliantly scathing things about the racists that surrounded him. Maybe I should be less forgiving.

Regardless, contemporaries get a more intense stink-eye from me. The idea that people have failed to evolve alongside societal shifts and expectations — especially artists who typically lean further left — is ultimately what frustrates me.

Celebrities, artists, public figures are all just people and I don’t give the average person much leeway so why should I be more forgiving just because someone puts more of themselves into the public realm? If I discover that someone is guilty of sexually assault, or supports white supremacy, or even just makes me uncomfortable when I can’t put a finger on why, I will put significant distance between them and me. If I feel that a corporation is acting without care for human life (Nestle, I’m looking at you) I will stop buying their products. If I feel like a government is acting against the better interests of the region it represents I will write to my representative and I will work to change that government. So why do I continue to support artists?

It’s complicated sometimes. Yes, I can stop buying books from authors and art from artists but films are a huge undertaking by a large number of connected people. Sometimes it’s easier to shut them out from our end knowing that some directors have far more control over their productions (Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino) whereas some have far less control. Some have had little choice in where their funding came from. It’s fair for someone from the outside to say, “I just wouldn’t have taken the offer from Weinstein if I’d known his reputation,” but what if that money was the one thing that could lift you out of the rut you were in? I know that if there were an earthquake and the only products left on the shelf were Nestle brands, I’d take them. Heck I’d pay premium prices for them.

It’s not always a matter of greed — though in some cases I am sure it was. Just as I am sure some people were faced with a difficult choice, and that some people legitimately had no clue about the true nature of the person they were doing business with,  I am certain that there were people who were well aware that Weinstein was a dangerous predator but who chose to put their bottom line over the health and safety of a young actress. Or many actresses, repeatedly. I know that some of the people stepping forward and saying, “I had no idea,” likely willfully ignored the stories women were telling. This is why Matt Damon bothers me so much. The fact that he helped to silence the truth when it surfaced years ago, painting it as libelous or downplaying it as rumors or a “he said she said” story, shows a pattern of not believing the victim, or even blaming the victim. The fact that he could have let that story be published but instead chose to be the bully is heartbreakingly disappointing. I was a fan but I cannot be now.

So. Can I separate the artist from their art? Yes. Should I? No. Not anymore.

I have been known to go to movies on opening weekend simply to show my support in the bottom line for box office reports — I can easily do the same in the other direction by refusing to support films created by those who perpetuate the toxic “ignorance” of those who routinely abuse their position of power, whether they are the abusers themselves or the apologists. I’m done. You don’t get my money or my attention anymore. There’s a lot of content out there, I will be fine without yours.

One Reply to “Can we ever separate the artist from their art?”

  1. Beautiful writing and makes me think of how the TV industry in the UK has dealt with historicall sexual abuse