Can a bad person make good art?

Hooray for Brian Boyd!  In this morning’s Irish Times,  he has strolled into a minefield which lesser mortals avoid, usually preferring to lean on the outer fence and hurl insults instead.

What Boyd has done is ask a shocking question: after allegations of child abuse,  should anyone listen to Michael Jackson’s music?  From there he’s gone on to talk of  Kevin Spacey, Jimmy Savile, John Peel,  David Bowie, and the sculptor Eric Gill, an example of whose work adorns BBC Broadcasting House in London.

Some of these have become non-persons, in the tradition of Orwell’s 1984. Boyd’s point is that some – John Peel, David Bowie, Eric Gill – are still respected for their work,  while others – Spacey, Savile, Jackson – are totally disowned.

The minefield Boyd has danced across is one where to draw a distinction between the life of the artist and his/her work  is seen as giving approval to the sins/crimes in that life.

One minute of concentrated thought will tell you that we apply, or should apply, different criteria to an assessment of artistic work and an assessment of the morality of actions. There have been writers – some of them Irish – whose personal lives swiveled between the embarrassing and the benighted, but whose work is without doubt superb and even timeless.

When this age is looked back on,  they will surely wonder what kind of  hysteria gripped people who one minute revered the artistic talent of such as Kevin Spacey and the next snipped it out of artistic history.

Meanwhile,  Brian Boyd is to be applauded for voicing an argument that others were too fearful or too stupid to even think.

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