UHCL The Signal
The official student newspaper of the University of Houston-Clear Lake

To what degree should fans separate the artist from their works


This year has proven to be yet another year that has brought the dark side of a celebrity’s personal life to light. As 2017 comes to an end, so does the possibility of any hope for the future of Harvey Weinstein’s and Kevin Spacey’s careers. This is not the first time one has seen such instances happen, and these incidents once again call into question just how much should one connect the artist to their works.

Earlier October was the catalyst of both Spacey’s and Weinstein’s careers when varying sources began to report an array of allegations against both film icons. The revelations of Weinstein’s and Spacey’s actions have proven to be only negative for the production stars, leading to firings and disassociations between the stars and their companies and productions. The scandals have led to various other allegations being made against many other prolific figures in the film industry and have led to dark shadows being cast over the future of these figures’ careers. It cannot be denied that the now dubbed “Weinstein effect” has led to the end of many careers and many who were once fans of Spacey, Weinstein and various other entertainers’ fans and production companies are now refusing to watch or associate with any further works by the actors.

This is certainly not the first time such scandals have occurred in Hollywood. Various celebrities have faced controversy from fans and audiences due to certain personal issues and actions coming to light. Just a few years ago, audiences saw the downfall of comedian Bill Cosby’s career following various allegations of sexual assault and rape. Hollywood has always faced controversy over the personal lives of many of its most prominent figures. Directors Roman Polanski and Woody Allen have continued to face shunning from many due to their confirmed scandals and actions. Both the ’90s and 2000s saw the scandals of celebrities such as Michael Jackson, R. Kelly and Chris Brown. Actors such as Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson have even faced criticism and controversy over their religious and political stances.

Despite all the scandals, society still finds itself listening, watching, admiring and continuing to give these artists sureties that fans will continue to watch regardless of the actor’s personal life.

Artists that have left their legacy on the world have never been flawless like celebrity worship has often suggested. Innovative artist Leonardo da Vinci nearly faced charges for sodomy committed on a friend, and many of the most prominent public figures from the past were products of their society. This can also be seen in many historical figures that have shaped the country and world. It is common knowledge that the early presidents held racist views and owned slaves. When looking at artists of the twentieth century, many were stricken with imperfections. It has long been speculated that Walt Disney was a racist and anti-Semite, and even acclaimed horror author H. P. Lovecraft was a racist and white supremacist, whose views show in many of his works. Yet in all these cases, we find that these figures continue to be studied and even widely regarded in classrooms. It is very likely that even years from now film classes will continue to teach students about important but controversial directors like D.W. Griffith, whose film “Birth of a Nation” portrayed the KKK as heroic figures and even reignited the movement in the 20th century, Roman Polanski, who drugged and raped a 12-year-old girl and Woody Allen, who has faced similar sexual assault accusations.

At the end of the day, how should we, as lovers, admirers and scholars of art, approach this a matter in this day and age? As a society, we are at a point where the answer is not something concrete or clear. But from a critical standpoint, it is clear that we will have to separate the artist from their work. Or do we? Could this be a two-way street? If we must separate the artist from their work, should the artists then have respect for the fans and viewers and keep their personal lives under wraps? In a perfect world perhaps, but information is always bound to land in the public’s hands. If we are to truly be analyzers of art, we must acknowledge the creator just as much as the creation. As we study art, we can always have our personal preferences. However, if we are to be critical thinkers and examiners of art, we must always be able to analyze the art for its good and innovation, but nevertheless, remind ourselves of the person behind the work. When it comes down to it, art is a creation, something that is always in some way an object separate from its creator. There is a reason we continue to study works of art despite the creators’ controversial past. As a piece of art itself, that work stands on its own, worthy of its own judgment and recognition.

The art will always in some way live in the shadow of its creator, and vice versa, but nevertheless the art itself deserves recognition. While some might say that the artists themselves are often reflected in the work, to the point where separation is not likely, then that is bound to show in the work and must simply be something we take into consideration when critiquing the art. As critical observers of art, we should be able to make our own proper stance on the piece of art.

If we, as artists and critics of art, wish to continue the innovation of art then we must, as critical thinkers, be able to observe the art and not the person. Or in some cases, observe the greatness of the art, and the awfulness of the person separately. As controversial writer Salman Rushdie said regarding the topic, “It is tough, but there are enough examples around where we have to somehow find a way of separating the work from the artist and seeing what there is to see in the work, while also condemning the thoughts we see in the man.”