The reason that question — “Can bad people create good art?” — is misleading is that badness and goodness in this formulation don’t refer to the same thing. In the case of the artist, badness or goodness is a moral quality or judgment; in the case of his art goodness and badness are terms of aesthetic merit, to which morality does not apply. The conductor Daniel Barenboim, a Jew, is a champion of Wagner’s music, for example, and has made a point of playing it in Israel, where it is hardly welcome. His defense is that while Wagner may have been reprehensible, his music is not. Barenboim likes to say that Wagner did not compose a single note that is anti-Semitic. And the disconnect between art and morality goes further than that: not only can a “bad” person write a good novel or paint a good picture, but a good picture or a good novel can depict a very bad thing. Think of Picasso’sGuernica or Nabokov’s Lolita , an exceptionally good novel about the sexual abuse of a minor, described in a way that makes the protagonist seem almost sympathetic.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
… Good Art, Bad People - NYTimes.com. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)