Listening to Erich Hatala Matthes and Tom Sutcliffe on Radio 4’s “Front Row” (available on BBC Sounds) was quite the lesson in how women are believed to be fair game by the BBC. They were asking if it is OK to enjoy the work of an artist if we disapprove of their morals.
Can we, for instance, appreciate the sublime beauty of Eric Gill’s statue of Prospero and Ariel given Gill’s deplorable personal conduct as a man? (He raped his own daughters and the family dog.) Most people agree to feeling uncomfortable about this example.
How about Hitler who had ambitions as an artist? Matthes and Sutcliffe conclude that “Hitler was a moral monster but to try to read that into his inoffensive not particularly interesting watercolours ... would be absurd”. This example is much easier – liking Hitler’s pictures means you lack aesthetic rigour rather than moral fibre.
Ah – but is there a difference between artists who have committed crimes and artists who have unpopular opinions? Here’s something we can get our teeth into: “JK Rowling ... clearly has a very unpopular opinion regarding gender identity and has as a consequence of that has faced severe and serious criticism”
I’m sorry, what?
We’ve just been discussing two appalling men, one of whom committed the worst kind of sexual assault, the other a maniacal mass murderer, and the next most controversial candidate for discussion is a woman with an “unpopular opinion”? And yes, those quotes around “unpopular opinion” are required because, frankly, who says JK Rowling has unpopular opinions other than the vocal advocates of gender identity ideology? Everyone I know agrees with her.
On they babble about how to differentiate between the two groups. Incredibly, their conclusion is not that there is no way any sane person would see any equivalence between men who commit atrocities and women with opinions, but instead the differences are to do with how people in power treat them.
Pardon? Am I actually hearing this?
Matthes and Sutcliffe go on to agree that it would be fine to choose not to promote the work of an artist whose views do not align with the ethics of an organisation.
Stunning. Hitler’s work isn’t good enough to be displayed, but JK Rowling should not be promoted because her opinions are deemed by a few very vocal extremists to be ethically questionable.
I won’t bore you with Daniel Radcliff’s hypocrisy about the moral messages in JKR’s books. But I will share Tom Sutcliffe’s observation that Radcliff doesn’t seem at all curious as to how JKR came to these views if she was such a hateful bigot. Oh, the irony!
The misogyny doesn’t stop there, though. Sutcliffe wonders aloud (by now I’d really rather he’d keep his nonsense to himself) if we require the artist to be flawed? And now we hear that Patricia Highsmith, who is a wonderful writer, once remarked that she considered herself to be “a bit of a sociopath”.
So, in summary, the examination of the whether the moral worth of an artist has any bearing on the merit of their art, the BBC present us with four examples of Very Bad People. Two men and two women:
Eric Gill: sex offender of the worst kind, but exceptional artist.
Adolf Hitler: (I’d claim Godwin’s law on his inclusion, but he was introduced at the beginning) monster by any definition of the word, and uninteresting as an artist.
JK Rowling: accused of making some people “feel unsafe” because she believes in reality, and has written some of the best loved children’s books of all time. Oh, and she has personally given a small fortune to charities but that wasn’t mentioned.
Patricia Highsmith: Wonderful writer who once made an unfortunate comment about herself, but there’s no evidence that she ever did anything wrong.