With the #MeToo movement sparking debate in the arts and entertainment industries, post-secondary professionals are bringing learning opportunities to the classrooms.

Leaders of Toronto’s arts scene took part in “#MeToo & the Arts,” a panel discussion at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) on Sept. 26 that addressed the role of gender and power dynamics in art pieces and creative institutions. The longstanding debate of art versus the artist took the focus.

Pablo Picasso’s “Girl Before a Mirror.” (Nathan Laurell/Flickr)

As discussed during the panel, the world of art has historically been dominated by white men. Many of these artists, including Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, lived misogynistic lifestyles that were reflected in their work. With the unfolding of the #MeToo movement, the historical tendency of famous artists objectifying women has become even more blatant.  

“One of the great strengths of art and design education, but certainly within art education, is the ability to really create context and understanding, both in a historical sense but also to allow a kind of discourse,” said Sara Diamond, the president of OCAD University.

Diamond said that teaching young artists during this time of social change requires critical dialogue and diversity. Having a diverse faculty for students to engage with ensures curricula that challenges students to interpret art from multiple perspectives.

Ryerson follows a similar mandate, said Carolyn Kane, an associate professor in the Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD).

Kane said that when students produce content that can be seen as inappropriate, she’ll explore the intention of the piece through a discussion with the student and their peers.

“When a student presents a project that has some sort of implicit bias or prejudice in it, I tend to ask the other students in the class what they think or if they agree with it,” said Kane. “I try to very gently unpack the bias for the student without attacking them, so they can see that maybe their view or their opinion on a topic is specific to a certain cultural construction and that doesn’t necessarily stand by other people’s.”

The age-old saying “art is subjective” is a reminder that there are many ways to interpret a piece, and even more ways in which it can be misconstrued. In the instance that a troubling piece of work has been created, it should be addressed in a thoughtful manner.

“I don’t think it’s by shutting down difficult work, that comes from this cannon, that has kind of a Eurocentric or heterosexist perspective,” said Diamond. “I think it’s by addressing their work and thinking about it through other work, and understanding how to build critical discourse around it.”

#MeToo & the Arts is part of an adult lecture series called ROM Speaks that features a different topic every other week at the ROM until the beginning of December.

Jennifer La Grassa is a health and science reporter who enjoys writing about the intersectionality between Canadian healthcare and socio-cultural issues. When she's not chasing down a story, she's still consuming copious amounts of caffeine while completing a puzzle or reading a good book.

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