separating the artist from the art (or not)

This is not a new topic. It has been around for a long time and I don’t believe there is any kind of consensus on it. The question is: do we “cancel” artists (authors, musicians, movie makers) based on their personal behavior?

bookstoreThis subject arose again in my mind while watching Maureen Corrigan’s excellent Great Courses lecture series Banned Books, Burned Books, Forbidden Literary Works. I’ll have plenty to write about this course when I have finished it, but it was her lecture entitled “Canceled Authors” that prompted me to write about the artist/art struggle. It was on my mind anyway, as I am anticipating the release of Claire Dederer’s new book Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma, which is due out on April 25. Based on a piece in The Paris Review, the book is supposed to tackle this topic head on.

As for Corrigan, she begins by quoting the line from William Butler Yeats: “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” She discusses writer Blake Bailey, whose publisher pulled his comprehensive biography of Philip Roth from sale when allegations of his personal behavior came to light. She then discusses other authors who received similar treatment.

It is an issue I have been grappling with for a while. What about Woody Allen? Do I no longer watch his movies because of his allegedly predatory sexual behavior?

Then there’s Marion Zimmer Bradley. Her novel The Mists of Avalon is highly regarded as a superb feminist retelling of the King Arthur myth. Arthurian scholar Dorsey Armstrong assigns the book in some of her college classes and she reports that most of her students find it engrossing. Yet we learned after Bradley’s death that she engaged in child molestation. Does that mean that we don’t read her books? One evening a Kindle bargain books email to which I subscribe arrived and listed Avalon for something like $2.99. On impulse I snapped it up, but feeling regret, I returned the book the next day. And this even though Bradley’s literary executors have said that they are routing all of her royalties to a fund that works to prevent child abuse. Does this make sense?

Corrigan states that the American Library Association takes the position that we should focus on the work, not the creator of the work. She agrees. Corrigan then asks her viewers to make up their own minds, but, she warns, whichever position you take be prepared to have a lot of people disagree with you.

As Robert MacNeil used to say when wrapping up an interview, “We’ll have to leave it there.”

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