Can we separate the art from the artist?
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Can we separate the art from the artist?

THE age old question of whether you can separate the art from the artist is one that I have personally struggled with for a long time. And with the brave and confronting allegations made against a large collection of men in the entertainment industry over the last few months has forced me to face it once more.

While the sheer scale and level of abuse that Harvey Weinstein has been accused of is shocking, the idea of lecherous, predatory males in the movie business certainly is not. Time and time again we have seen allegations of sexual assault come to light only to be summarily forgotten when the man goes on to win an Oscar or attend a film festival – adoring fans in tow. The adoration seems incongruous with reality, but I guess everyone battles with this same question, and each person deals with it in their own way.

In the past, much awkwardness around the behaviour of artists, usually male, has gone mostly unaddressed. But in times of greater cultural awareness and sensitivity, it is thankfully becoming more difficult to shirk off, so whether we allow our opinion of the man to affect our opinion of his work is a reality that we have to face. And not just on a personal level, but art curators, film producers, festival organisers, are all having to evaluate their approach to these morally ambiguous questions.

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It’s a jarring paradox to love an artist’s work but hate the artist. Art is, after all, a very personal endeavour and the meaning behind the piece is often intimately intertwined with the man himself. But can it be done? Can you appreciate a work of art based on artistic merit alone and leave the messy business of the artist’s moral transgressions at the door? The simple answer is yes, but things are never that simple.

The case with Weinstein is slightly different, after all, he didn’t actually make any of the movies his company was associated with, just funded them. And there was an army of dedicated men and women who worked to make those films the iconic and cinema-changing masterpieces we know and love. The awe I felt watching Pulp Fiction for the first time cannot simply disappear because a monster was involved in the financing and it seems disrespectful to everyone else who worked on the movie to see it as tainted and impose a boycott.


Weinstein arrives at the 89th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, US, on Feb 26, 2017. Source: Reuters/Mike Blake/File Photo

Having said that, I’m pretty determined to make sure I don’t do anything that adds a single penny into the coffers of the Weinstein Company going forward. Something that may be fairly easy to achieve given that the company, quite rightfully, appears to be dead in the water thanks to the work of the women who came forward.

A similar argument could be made of Kevin Spacey. I love House of Cards and will continue to do so. This is most certainly not to condone Spacey’s actions, or a bid to pardon him or sweep it under the carpet. But instead an appreciation of the fantastic writer behind the character of Frank Underwood and the countless other people, both cast and crew, that make the show great.

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It appears Spacey has since been fired from the series so hopefully, no moral quandary will be tied up in the new seasons, but I will continue to appreciate the old ones all the same. I suppose there is a difference between appreciating the artist’s past work and continuing to support their livelihood.

So much beautiful work has been created by people with dark and murky private lives. Artists are complicated people, it is partly this complexity that gives the work such a visceral and moving appeal.

Going back in history, the pasts of so many great artists are tainted with scandal. So, can there ever really be such a thing as a “clean” work of art? To think, if all our artists were squeaky clean, how boring our world would be.

I suppose, for me, the aim is to find some sort of middle ground. While I will likely not boycott all Weinstein movies for ever more, I absolutely baulk at the distasteful nature of giving Roman Polanski – a confessed child rapist – a full retrospective dedicated to his work as Paris inexplicably did last month.

Each case is different, and my approach to them will be too. While I sometimes envy the certainty of those people who see this as cut and dry, I certainly do not share it.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent