ON ARTISTS: PAINS IN THE ARTS

Ashleigh Wilson’s essay ON ARTISTS is a pain in the arts.

Wilson quotes George Orwell- “If Shakespeare returned to Earth tomorrow and if it were found out that his favourite recreation was raping little girls in railway carriages, we should not tell him to go ahead with it on the ground that he might write another King Lear.”

No. We would incarcerated the dastardly Bard like we would any criminal and he would write another masterpiece in jail. Artists are not above the law and artistic temperament is not a defence against abusive behaviour.

At a basic level its impossible to detach the artist from the art. As long as humans are making art, then the context of their lives influences the work they produce. But how can we measure the extent of that influence?

Art by its very nature emphasises the strengths of the talent as well as the flaws in the character. It is the perversions or predatory proclivity not the performance or art that are abhorrent.

Wilson also quotes Rachel Campbell-Johnston, chef art critic for the times – “it remains the duty of a civilised society to preserve art works that reveal our human nature – even with its worst flaws.”

Should Spacey be expunged from his body of work, made give back his Oscars?

Should Wagner be proscribed in Israel because of apparent anti-Semetic leanings?

This is part of a much older discussion about the nature of aesthetic judgement. When the German philosopher Immanuel Kant described the conditions by which we evaluate the beauty of “an object or a kind of representation” in his aesthetic treatise of 1790,The Critique of Judgement, he stipulated the essential quality of “disinterestedness.”

Disinterestedness is the attitude that permits us to assess work without the influence of an internal agenda or external interference—a requirement, in other words, that we understand a work of art purely on its own terms, unmarred by historical precedent, biographical detail, political, social or moral implication. If Kant were alive today, he would probably argue that only the work matters—not the men behind it, or their deeds.

ON ARTISTS by Ashleigh Wilson is published by Melbourne University Press.

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