"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Sunday, May 05, 2019

The Morality of the Artist and the Art

BBC Radio 4 - Moral Maze, The Morality of the Artist and the Art

"Michelangelo's work was sublime. And he was pretty strange. Dickens was English literature’s compassionate moralist, yet we now know he tried to push his wife into a lunatic asylum to get off with a younger woman. But nobody's making documentaries about them this week and nobody's calling for their records to be banned, so we're stuck with [Michael Jackson]...

‘TS Eliot was an anti Semite. WB Yeats was a fascist. Nabokov's novel Lolita celebrates paedophilia, would you, you know, not read any of that?’...

When people talk about Hitler, you know, sometimes when people talk about Hitler as an artist, I always want to say, yeah, but he didn't kill millions of people through painting...

‘They wanted to replace [Kipling] with Maya Angelou… and one of my favorite quotes from her was when she said, Shakespeare must be a black girl. And the reason why she said that was when she read Sonnet 29, you know, for her, it was talking of her experience. And the reason I say that is, who cares what the politics or the race or the morality of the writer is, if they create a great work of art that talks to you, wherever you are in the world. Isn’t that the point of art?’...

We know that many artists, writers, artists, whatever have been larger than life characters, and some of them have been monstrous. They've done terrible things, they've committed murder, they have raped, they have advocated paedophilia and so on and so forth. But isn't it the case that it's precisely because they are outside normal social norms that they become great artists?

For example, Roald Dahl, was by all accounts an absolute creep. He was certainly an anti Semite… But his literature, his children's literature is absolutely magnificent because he was that kind of person... Why should artists be role models? Or should artists be role models given that so much of art is essentially transgressive?...

I'm inclined to share the view of Oscar Wilde when he wrote in the preface to Dorian Gray that there is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written, that is all. I feel like if you are seeking some kind of validation that the artists that you enjoy have this kind of moral purity then frankly I feel a bit sorry for you because it means that you won't be able to enjoy any art whatsoever.

In my experience most artists are by definition pariahs, they are unusual people, they have a strange way of looking at the world, they are eccentric and they're often very bad people and that is why they can produce such interesting work... I am able to see the world through someone else's eyes, they are inviting me and they're enabling me to see the world through that prism. And often without art, I don't necessarily want to just see the world through the eyes of someone who was morally good...

Comedy is an involuntary, laughter is an involuntary response. And often we laugh because of the craft of the person, not because of what they represent. I mean, just to give you an example, with Louis CK example, there was a headline in The Guardian saying that if you laugh at Louis CK’s work, you are now complicit in sexual assault, which I think is absolute nonsense. Of course, you're not, because you don't sit there and think now that's a funny joke. But should I, should I laugh at that because that will be endorsing abuse...

'Why would you seek authenticity from an artist? Why would you seek moral guidance from an artist? That's absolutely not their role. That has absolutely nothing to do with them. I mean if you read a novel by, when a novelist creates characters and creates scenarios they're not just advancing their worldview, they're exploring an idea'

‘Another example I'm reading Milkman by Anna Burns. a fantastic book about the troubles in a young woman's life. For me part of the value of that is I think that she was there that she understands the demotic she's using. If I was told it’d been written by a you know, a middle aged man in Tunbridge Wells who'd never been there, it would make me feel differently about it’

‘It wouldn't with me, it’d me impress me more actually… Lars von Trier does this wonderful thing. Whenever he makes films, he tries to, he sets out to defend a moral point of view that he finds indefensible. That's a fantastic and artistically satisfying thing to do. And that's, that's amazing. It's far more impressive if it's not authentic, because art is artifice, that's what it means'...

Michael Jackson's narcissism, his paedophilia, his wretched nose was all part of his pop character, the bizarre character. I think that's the point. When we look at Jimmy Savile, we're looking at him and we can't then dissociate that character from what he did. When we look at Michael Jackson, he is producing sexualized pop and his character is what he is selling and consequently we cannot ignore it.

Whereas if we look at a Caravaggio painting, the fact that he’s tried to murder his lover or whatever it was is irrelevant to the great art we see before us, because it’s nothing to do with it...

The context... What people now call the kind of #metoo phenomenon. And people kept saying tonight I don't want to ban anything. Well, let me tell you whole bodies of work by individual actors and directors are being now blacklisted, taken off the shelves because allegations around #metoo, and we're told that we cannot watch Kevin Spacey any longer…

TS Eliot... he wrote in one of his great poems, he wrote the rats are underneath the pile, the Jew is underneath the lot. I can read that poem and think that's a great poem and simultaneously think that is a terrible thing to have said"
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