Separating Art from the Artist: Where do We Draw the Line?

Olivia Pan

Opinions Editor

The recent controversy surrounding Oscar-winning actor, Kevin Spacey, who was accused of sexually assaulting actor, Anthony Rapp, when he was just 14 years old, brings to mind the conflict of separating art from the artist. Are some behaviors so egregious that we should cease any support of that artist or do we judge so in degrees? I don’t think I’ll be watching any Bill Cosby comedy sets any time soon, but what about the other great artists, actors, writers, and musicians who also fit that bill?

In other words, how do we make distinctions between the morally corrupt person and the art that they create? Should one, for example, continue to watch Kevin Spacey’s films and TV show, or should one refuse to support a person accused of such heinous behavior? It is a difficult line to draw, considering that the character an actor plays on TV or in a movie is not who they are in real life. It is akin to separating fact from fiction. I am disgusted by what Kevin Spacey did. However, I cannot guarantee that I will refuse to watch “American Beauty” in the future if it happens to be on TV one night. There is a line in some cases that I am not willing to draw.

There are lines that I will draw though. I could never in any capacity continue to support a comedian such as Bill Cosby, accused of raping and assaulting more than 59 women. It appalls me that people continued to support him in the midst of his scandal. As a female, I have to draw the line there. A man who rapes women and uses his position in Hollywood to get away with such actions does not deserve anyone’s support and certainly not any economic benefits. I could never watch his show or listen to his comedy today.

Yet, how many of us sing along to Michael Jackson and John Lennon songs when they are played on the radio? One of these guys is accused of child molestation and one was a dead-beat dad and domestic abuser. Yet, both are still acknowledged as music icons and continue to receive recognition and praise for their art. I’ll admit to listening to their music. I’ll also admit to feeling guilt at times for doing so, especially pertaining to Michael Jackson. By listening to their music, I am, in a way, choosing to set aside their crimes and character flaws for the sake of great art.

However, where we draw the line is essentially up to us. It depends on who we are and what our personal situation in life is. If you’re a woman, rape and domestic violence are hot-button issues for you personally, so it is more difficult to separate the art from the artist in such cases. If you’re a young gay man who has been taken advantage of by older men in life, then you may never want to see another Kevin Spacey film as long as you live. Despite this, if we shunned every artist ever accused of a crime or crummy behavior, we’d have no artists left. We’d have no music, film, or comedy left to look to. Whether it be Chris Brown or Woody Allen, we have to make that choice case by case.

What it comes down to is this: It is a personal decision whether you wish to distinguish art from the artist. This is particularly true regarding which artists you plan to make these types of exceptions for. It is ultimately harder to do so in certain cases versus others. For me, it is a continuous struggle. It is difficult at times to put aside my personal feelings and morals for the enjoyment of a great song or film. Even so, it is a decision I have to reckon with and deal with. And of course there are some artists whose crimes are so despicable that I refuse to support their work in any capacity. Of course I did watch “Rosemary’s Baby” this Halloween season and think it is a masterpiece, even if I cringe at the behavior of its director, Roman Polanski.  Recognizing that there is a line is what is important, and one must follow one’s ethics accordingly. I will say that I am happy we are seeing more repercussions for the offenders than before. Let us not be swayed by talent, money, fame, and celebrity to ignore those who endanger and harm women, children, and society.

Photo Credits: BusinessInsider and BBC

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