How Can Bad People Make Such Good Art?

Art history is littered with unsavory biographies but how can works of such exalted inspiration originate in selfish characters? Extreme devotion to any singular purpose may be inhuman. 

What's the Latest Development?


The list of ground-breaking artists whose lives transgressed substantial moral boundaries is extensive. Wagner was a raging anti-Semite; Pound was a proto-fascist; Picasso was a womanizer; Mailer tried to kill his wife. The list goes on. So how is it possible that art can elevate our tastes, ostensibly to higher moral ground, when many of its makers seem such unsavory characters? "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."

What's the Big Idea?

Perhaps selecting the most morally dubious artists of our age is unfair, and we must recognize the great number of sane, even generous, artists who have graced the Earth. Still, there seems something unique about towering creative processes which alters human behavior in a fundamental way: "The creation of truly great art requires a degree of concentration, commitment, dedication, and preoccupation—of selfishness, in a word—that sets that artist apart and makes him not an outlaw, exactly, but a law unto himself." It may be that, good or bad, devotion to making one's art requires a singular, and therefore inhuman, focus.

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

 

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