Can you consume art when the artist is an abuser?
There is a longstanding argument reaching decades (or more) about the separation of an individual from the work they create. That somewhere, there exists a rigid dichotomy between art and artist, which in theory, sounds great. When I look at a piece of art or listen to a song for the first time, and I do not know who created it, I surely can judge that piece without weighing any other factors. However, if you’ve watched a show or listened to a musician for years and they have been outed as an abuser …what do you do?
I watched The Cosby Show religiously growing up. One of my best friends and I ignited our friendship based on our middle school crush on Chris Brown. I’ve seen more Harvey Weinstein executive-produced films than not. R Kelly’s ‘Step in The Name of Love’ played at more weddings than I can count. Songs off of Tory Lanez’s Chixtape 5 were on my Spotify Wrapped Up that year. However, after discovering the discretions of each of the people named above, I’ve removed them from my life. Some were easier than others, and that’s the point.
I had this argument with someone before, and their continuous rebuttal about it was, “regardless of their indiscretions, are they or are they not good artists?” Which, by the way, isn’t so black and white and is a terrible argument. Of course, they are talented in their fields. That is why this is a discussion. Let me ask you this, look at the victims of these perpetrators, usually women and young girls. Look at the history of male behavior towards women. It’s centuries of “art” created in women’s image – women being an object, a desire, a thing to be acquired. Now, look at how history had depicted and spoke about women.. with heavy misogyny. In most of these cases, women are put on pedestals for artistic consumption but dragged within men’s personal lives.
A historical example is Pablo Picasso, classified as one of the most famous painters of all time. Pablo Picasso also famously stated that women were “either goddesses or doormats” and “machines for suffering.” Picasso also had a few of his lovers commit suicide to escape his abusive nature. Yet, he was revered for his work which demonstrated his misogynistic views of women with each brushstroke.
While this conversation has been continuously discussed, especially with the emergence of the term ‘cancel culture’, something particular ignited this topic for me. I watched the HBO docu-series Allen V. Farrow, which divulged the alleged sexual abuse between Woody Allen and his then seven-year-old daughter, Dylan Farrow, in 1992. It also shows Allen’s romantic relationship with his then partner, Mia Farrow’s, adoptive daughter (who was supposedly 17 years old when it started), who he then went on to marry. Allen’s career never faltered or declined. If anything, his career continued to skyrocket until the commencement of the #MeToo movement in 2017. It took almost three decades for the artist and the art to be questioned. Woody Allen’s filmography is filled with films that depict his fascination with older men and very young women romantically. Allen also famously defended Roman Polanski (who raped a 13-year-old girl in 1977 and fled to France to avoid persecution.)
Women aren’t the only victims in these instances of abuse. Kevin Spacey was famously accused of sexual assault against a 14-year-old boy back in 1986. After the news broke, multiple people claimed the actor behaved inappropriately and groped several young men. Spacey used this moment to come out as a gay man, an act that was fueled by controversy. Spacey used a statement to change the topic from the accusation to his sexual orientation, which led people to believe Spacey was incorrectly correlating homosexuality and child abuse. He was subsequently fired from his television show during the emergence of the #MeToo movement.
While the consumption of material without knowing aspects about the creator is possible, it speaks volumes when you are actively aware of those offenses and chose to support them blindly. It speaks volumes to the people around you who may or may not have been victims of those same cases and feel disrespected. It speaks volumes as a woman seeing how many men on social media still promote and highly encourage those same perpetrators because they “enjoy them as a musician” or the very common “I wasn’t there how do I know that’s what happened.”
One’s character isn’t only judged by their qualities but also by the acceptance or rejection of others’ actions. I understand how it may be hard to remove certain people out of your circle of interest. I know that actively being aware of the music choices is a weird thing to be cautious of. But, that defense or mere ability to support abusers (in all aspects of entertainment and personally) will have a negative shadow cast on you by many people.