Conscientious Consumption: Separating Art from Artist


Adriana Barrios

Despite the best efforts of the men in power, victims of sexual assault have been emerging in the past few decades to expose their often famous assailants. The most recent wave of these exposures has taken place in the entertainment industry, namely allegations against Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey but involving other personalities as well. This is undoubtedly a victory, a step in the right direction, to confronting the mass problem of sexism and sexual violence in our society. Their position as creators, however, also leaves an interesting question: how should the art that these people created and/or continue to create be approached?

Art creation, by its very nature, is a deeply personal process and so in order to truly understand art one usually has to contextualize it with the author’s life and times. The key words here however are “truly understand” and the reality is that most of us do not wish to do that. Most people are not writing dissertations when they consume media. Rather they are utilizing it to, in some manner, escape reality. The enjoyment of these pieces is separated from the artist regardless of what their intention may have been because art, once presented into the world, belongs to those who experience it. To interpret it as a reflection of the artist’s mind may be correct, it might even make their art seem hypocritical or insincere, but that is not everyone’s immediate or even total interpretation.

Furthermore, it is possible to be aware of the sordid background life that artists lead and not feel morally obligated to denounce their art simply because it is a product of their mind. This is not to say that we should forget about the involvement of those people but rather that separating them from the products they create makes sense. Most people, for example, continue to listen to John Lennon’s music despite the fact that he was accused of domestic violence. The danger in enjoying the art these people make is found in forgetting that they have committed these crimes in order to enjoy the art. The glorification of the creators is lends them the power that allowed them to perpetrate these crimes in the first place. So to declare art as independent of artist one also has to agree that praise has to be placed on the art not on the artist.

Some may argue however that in consuming media that involved heinous people, consuming is itself support, at the very least financially. This argument fades into the harsh reality that although art is independent of the artist, the commodification of art as a product in the free market makes it intrinsically linked to the people that produce it. When choosing to consume one can do so with the knowledge that although they are supporting said artists, they are also supporting everyone else that worked in those productions. One could also choose to consume opportunistically, once the artist has died or in a situation in which the media in question will be consumed regardless of one’s presence. Purchasing the art from a secondhand source, such as at a used store, is another way one can continue to enjoy these art sources without benefiting their creators. The nature of art is such that one should not feel guilty for enjoying or having enjoyed the art created by criminals, but the reality that links art and artist in a for-profit loop leads to an unfortunate truth: to be a patron of this art is to be a patron of these artists. The only way to have something akin to socially conscious capitalism is for the society to consume consciously, regardless of what the consumers feelings toward the product may be.