Colliding Spheres: Sexual misconduct allegations influence artistic works


As the allegations against Harvey Weinstein continue to grow, many of us have been forced to re-evaluate his work as well as that of other accused rapists throughout Hollywood. This naturally means that very few films are safe, given the generally predatory nature of the industry. But does that mean that these films are no longer worthy of artistic value? Does their connection with some repugnant people make them, by association, repugnant? Well, that’s a lot to unfold, and we really have to consider whether or not any art can exist beyond the life of the artist.

On one hand, art does have a tendency to become more than the artist ever perhaps intended, in which case yes, art is more than the artist. Consider “The Wizard of Oz”, a children’s book which became one of the most famous films in history and eventually an icon in LGBT+ culture for God knows why. In this instance, L. Frank Baum’s original intention with the tale is bound to be at least a little bit distorted by the changing world: the world took the tale and made it their own, regardless of what Baum intended. This is a trend, in which any original meaning can be entirely stripped and transformed into something else, especially when moved outside of the rest of the world’s context.

On the other hand, art is going to be a reflection of society. In a basic sense, any art is going to serve as a small representation of cultural values, aesthetic values and personal values of a given time period. Even counter cultures or subversions of these expectations exist only in relation to these norms, so it is through these lenses that art is made to begin with. In that sense, art is at the least connected to the world and experience in which it was forged; any work is going to be made with the rest of the environment considered by the artist. Consider Keith Haring, whose art was inspired by New York street art as well as social issues of the time, including drug usage and the AIDS epidemic. All of this obviously originates from his experience as a gay man in 1980s New York, and while this is far from the only example, it seems a clear and immediate one. The effect is much more subtle than this example, which is already simplified for format, but still the life of the artist in relationship to the world around them will inevitably appear in the work regardless if that is their intention or not. Prejudice is often internal and unchecked and very easily translates into communicative form. So in that sense, no, the art cannot be separated from the artist.

And while I believe both sides have merit, that would ultimately be my final assertion. Art serves as a representation of the artist, even in an abstract way and to try and wholly separate the two is a dangerous thing. That is not to say we are not allowed to enjoy the works of repugnant people or find them interesting or valuable; but it does mean that we need to be careful and critical of art and what it adds to the conversation.