After reading an excellent post, at ART and ARCHITECTURE, mainly, about Oscar Wilde's involvement in France's notorious Dreyfus Affair, I decided to re-post this entry from August 2009. I have long been intrigued by our relationship with artists and by our expectations about them as moral (or otherwise) people.
In 1991, when Woody Allen began a relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow (his long-time romantic partner), the media erupted with commentary for and against his morality. Some said that they would never again patronize any of his films; others made a special case for him because "artists are different," and we overlook transgressions because of what their art gives to us.
An even more heated debate about artists, their morality, and their contributions to the world, arose when Roman Polanski was arrested in 2009, decades after fleeing to avoid sentencing in a case of having forced sex with a minor - to which he had pled guilty. The same arguments circulated.
Hels' post about Oscar Wilde discusses two books about Wilde's involvement in the Dreyfus Affair, particularly about his motives, and it reminded me of this question about artists that surfaces again and again.
Here is the original post:
In October 1984, I saw an exhibit of Hitler's watercolours at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.
I then knew nothing about Hitler as an artist and was shocked by the fact that he painted anything at all. The paintings were decent, some better than decent, and some were quite pretty, especially those of great architecture in landscape settings.
I would forget for a time that the paintings were done by Hitler and simply appreciate them; then with a mental start, I would remember whose work it was and feel guilty for enjoying it. At times, I was dual-minded, a critic watching myself enjoying the art of an evil madman.
We define a genius on the basis of his talent. At the time, talent was not the main focus. A genius had to have a strong personality. He was a larger-than-life talent who was permitted to do anything, including evil things. The genius has outstanding ideas, and they must be implemented, even if they are completely amoral. Hitler admired the work of dour philosophers like Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche.