Illustration: Zoe Cheng

It has become increasingly common for a beloved artist to be uncovered as a criminal, an abuser, a monster whose actions we will never forgive. At the same time, we acknowledge that they are not only our creators and entertainers, but idols of society that continue to represent everything we’ve ever wanted to see and more. It is undeniable that we will want to continuing praising works from the likes of Kevin Spacey, Hedley, and Harvey Weinstein. But to immerse ourselves in the weapons of their wrongdoings—believing that it is acceptable because it is just art—is grievously blindsighted. Claiming that the art can be separated from the artist is saying that a few enjoyable pieces of media are more important than acts of life-changing injustices.

 

If we continue to admire their work, are we turning a blind eye to victims and condoning their horrendous actions? Are we providing more freedom, power, and wealth to harm future victims, through the appreciation of their art? Are we considering the implications of separating the art from the artist? As much as we want to avoid it, the time has come to hold artists accountable for their personal lives. For every moment that we praise their work, we should condemn their misdeeds. We must not omit discouragement and criticism of the artist simply because they provide enjoyment. It’s illogical to dissociate art from the artist, declaring that works should simply be judged by their creative merit. The artists certainly don’t do that themselves. In fact, they take it all in—rushing to claim the fame and wealth that we provide them. When we tell them that their misdeeds do not have a substantial impact on the perception of their work, we’re giving them the freedom to harm others and the freedom to avoid consequences.

 

An artist’s life is intimately related to how we perceive their artwork: context is fundamental to judging culture. If we consider titles such as the prestigious ‘auteur’ status of many artists for incorporating highly personalized elements as central themes in their work, the reverse must also be true. Criticism and reflection of artwork can only be done by making useful connections—where there are gaps, the audience turns to the artist to fill them in. The producers’ personal life has much to do with the portrayal of narratives and stories in their works: different circumstances in their life inevitably leak their way into the art. We cannot look at Weinstein’s work without questioning his treatment of female leads in his works. We cannot watch lengthy shots of Kevin Spacey on screen without our conscience screaming to turn it off. We cannot listen to Hedley without being reminded of the lead singer’s recent arrest. How can we see art at face value, when their actions tarnish what it means to us? It is imperative that the personal life and values of the artists be examined alongside their work, especially when it is blatantly obvious that what they produce is a reflection of their beliefs and characteristics.

 

Arguably, perpetrators are not the only ones who have a hand in producing the work. The goal of this movement is not to harm the innocent creators—it is to create a more accountable and responsible industry. If the most powerful in the field — the directors, producers, and hiring managers of the industry — were more inclined to align their works with the values of accountability and justice, the criminals at the core of the issue would be the ones bearing the brunt of the consequences, not the innocent creatives hooked as bycatch. The perpetrators would be rightfully shunned, banned from the creative spaces that have more to offer without them in it. To let criminals continue in the industry unscathed would be injustice in its rawest form; it would taint the work of other talented individuals with a distasteful guilt.