Yesterday I felt constrained to post a comment on Victoria Coren Mitchell’s blog in regard of her programme How to be a Bohemian. I reproduce it here:
Very entertaining and informative Victoria, delivered with your usual sparkling and cheeky wit. You may be scandalized to learn that you introduced me to Eric Gill, whose art is as excellent as his private life was execrable. But I can’t agree with you about Wagner. He was a thoroughly self-obsessed, unpleasant man and serial adulterer, who was not just an intolerant bigot but intellectualized anti-Semitism. His music though is sublime and feted by many Jews. It seems to me that the art of Wagner, Gill and many others whose political views and personal habits may disgust us, must transcend the artist. After all, T S Eliot was a documented anti-Semite; are we not to read Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats or go and see the musical?
Some explanation is called for; Eric Gill was an artist of the Arts and Crafts movement who died in 1940. I had never heard of him but his woodcuts and sculptures are very compelling. His private life was ‘unconventional’; he too was a serial adulterer, and his sexual conquests included two of his daughters and the family dog… My comments on Wagner are self-explanatory.
Much of the study of ‘art’ in its broadest sense, involves study of the artist and their personal life and how that can have influenced their work. But consideration of some of Gill’s extraordinary output, and of course that of Richard Wagner, convinces me that it is possible – even necessary – to separate the artist from his or her art.
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