Janus, the writer

I thought I’d offer you a debate to be held after Christmas with your arty friends. It is one that can get very passionate, and it is as old as paintings on cave walls.

Can you be totally captivated, informed and elevated by the work of an artist who, you discover, is an appalling human being?
There have been many writers who have led disreputable, even loathsome lives but whose work still grace the shelves of the great and the good. I happened to see an old edition of QI the other night and Edgar Allen Poe was featured at one point. Illegally marrying his 13 year old cousin and an alcoholic, he was also the founder of detective fiction, science fiction and came up with the Big Bang theory eighty years before science could catch up with him. At the extreme end, Eric Gill, a Catholic multi-skilled artist, sexually abused his children and his dog as well as having a sexual relationship with his sister. Hitler loved Wagner’s work. At a dinner with friends in France last year a close friend said he detested Woody Allen and would not watch his films because of his social behaviour (including his current and long time sexual relationship with his one time adopted child). Another friend said he’d never watch a Stephen Fry programme, given what he did to Simon Gray. The fact that he is bipolar was not, for my friend, an excuse.
So, can we divorce the biography from the work? There is no doubt that many artefacts that we currently consider to be exquisite works of art may have been fashioned by people we would have liked to have imprisoned for life for their inhumanity.
A lot of you, reading this, will be writers. It is possible that you divorce who you are in the day to day, from whom you prefer to be as an artist. On the one hand you may lead a blameless life and create works of disgusting sadism and on the other you may be a sadist to all who cross your path and create wondrous works of beauty.
What are we to do with you?

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