What If an Artist Is a Horrible Person?
Reader el asks me to write about my approach to artists who do horrible things in RL. As we have all probably noticed, I’m very self- righteous, moralizing, and judgmental. This is why I don’t find it hard to stop consuming an artist’s work if I discover that s/he did things I consider horrible. It isn’t really something I do on purpose. I simply lose all interest in any artistic production coming from somebody who does things I find disgusting.
Mind you, I’m talking specifically about things one does, not what one says. To give an example, one of my favorite writers, Juan Goytisolo, writes very violent texts where he performs acts of verbal aggression against women and children. But as long as it’s part of his art and not of his life, I don’t have a problem with it. I even sought out a famous literary critic who knows Goytisolo well in person and questioned him about the artist’s life.
“Don’t be fooled by his texts,” the scholar told me. “In real life, he is as inoffensive as a butterfly.”
I don’t practice moral relativism, so I apply the same criteria to artists who lived centuries ago. I don’t find the belief that “society was different and we can’t apply today’s moral criteria to what happened in the past” acceptable. Take Cervantes, for example. In the midst of an anti-Muslim frenzy, he wrote about the plight of the Spanish Muslims with so much compassion that you can’t fail to admire him. We also have to keep in mind that, among all of the contemporary writers and thinkers who foamed at the mouth insulting the Muslims, Cervantes was one person who’d actually suffered at the hands of Muslims. He lost an arm in battle, was enslaved. Yet he managed to preserve the lucidity and the compassion that allowed him to see that the Muslims who were being expelled from Spain were not to blame for his personal suffering.
This just goes to show that, in any epoch, you have jerks and you have good, normal people. So if you rape, abuse, torture, then you can stick your art deep into your anal cavity. I have no use for it. There is more beautiful art in the world that one can admire in 100 lifetimes, so why should I waste my time on the work of somebody I find disgusting?