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Good art, bad guys: Can you separate the artist from the art?

Posted at 10:39 PM, Feb 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-10 07:18:53-05

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DENVER — "Good Will Hunting," "Pulp Fiction," "English Patient," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Kill Bill." All these beloved movies were made by Harvey Weinstein, the man on trial for rape in New York and accused of predatory sexual abuse, assault, and coercion by more than 80 women. The man whose alleged actions launched the global #MeToo movement.

Weinstein founded Miramax Films and produced more than 200 movies that won 81 Oscars. But if he's really the monstrous serial abuser he's accused of being, can we, should we still enjoy his movies?

Dr. Apryl Alexander is a psychologist at the University of Denver who works with sex offenders and their victims. She says some people are able to separate the artists from their work -- some can't. Some of Weinstein's accusers were actresses in his films.

"By not separating, what message are we sending to survivors of the acts? That we don't believe them? That these individuals can go on and make more money off their abuse?", Dr. Alexander says.

Trai Cartwright is a filmmaker who teaches screenwriting at CU Denver. Because of Weinstein, her classes regularly discuss the bad behavior in Hollywood and the power of ethical movie fans.

"We want to encourage everyone to be a responsible consumer. If they don't feel like they can support someone who has done terrible things in our world, then don't give them your money," Cartwright said.

A young woman -- we'll call Sandy, which is not her real name -- has a more nuanced take.

She says the goal should not be to separate the artist from the art but rather to work toward a world where our entertainment is not made by terrible people and to be mindful of how people may feel about the works of art created by these people.

"The survivors of those people may experience trauma every single time they experience the art of this person. It's wrong just to ignore that that's also there," Sandy said.

This is the art we have. And it's easier said than done to avoid the stuff made by the bad guys. For example, Les Moonves is behind "Friends." Michael Jackon's music is still all around us. Normal Mailer wrote 11 best-sellers, and he tried to kill his wife. Going back further, Gaugin was a pedophile. Degas was an anti-Semite. Caravaggio killed a man. Where do you draw the line? When do you draw the line?

Wende Curtis owns Denver's Comedy Works comedy clubs. In November 2018, a representative for comedian Louis CK, who a year before admitted to sexual misconduct, asked if Louis could perform at her club during his comeback tour.

Before Curtis made a decision, she says she reached out to one of CK's victims. And after that conversation, Curtis told CK "no."

"I couldn't look myself in the mirror and do that," Curtis said.

Curtis believes Louis CK should be let back in if he delivers a sincere apology and tries to be part of the change.

Dr. Alexander agrees. She says those who served their sentences and who have made amends should be allowed back into our popular culture.

Maybe to you, the art is its own thing, independent of the artist.

Maybe to you, art and artist are inseparable. Or maybe try as we may, art makes hypocrites of us all.

But for those who try to be ethical consumers, mindful of the victims, take heart. You are part of the change that is already happening. And a kinder, more aware society maybe your masterpiece.