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One of the knock-on effects of the #MeToo movement has been its escalation of an important corollary debate: How should we think about the art of wicked men? It’s not a new question, by any means, but it is being posed now in what is effectively a new cultural environment around the whole question of sexual harassment and abuse.
Our judgments, both of art and of the people who make it, are always subjective and inconsistent, and our hearts are fickle and weak. We could never hope to know the full truth of any artist’s life. Many we probably judge too harshly; others not harshly enough.Take Louis C.K. as an example. Last October, a New York Times investigation corroborated stories that had been circulating for years: Louis had pressured at least five female colleagues to watch or listen to him ****. Within hours of the New York Times report, film critic Matt Zoller Seitz declared—with memorable bluntness—“Louis C.K. is done.” And we shouldn’t feel bad about it, either, Seitz said. “There’s no reason to feel remorse for disinvesting affection we sank into artists who are later revealed to be criminals or abusers. There’s no reason to have qualms about stamping their work ‘Of Archival Interest Only’ and moving on to something new.”
Seitz - Logic - Resonance—the - Revelation - Artist
Seitz’s logic has an immediate emotional resonance—the revelation of an artist’s abuse does fundamentally change our relationship to their work. This is especially true in the case of someone like Louis, whose particular transgressions are right there in his act for everyone to see. Louis frequently talked about sexual perversion in his stand-up, even his own sexual perversion, and we all kind of uncomfortably assumed that the worst bits weren’t literal descriptions of his own personal behavior (though no one was exactly shocked when it turned out that they often...
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