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Opening Arguments

Good from the bad

Hey, want something interesting to read that's not about health care? Charles McGrath has a fascinating piece in The New York Times about bad people who create good art:

The reason that question — “Can bad people create good art?” — is misleading is that badness and goodness in this formulation don’t refer to the same thing. In the case of the artist, badness or goodness is a moral quality or judgment; in the case of his art goodness and badness are terms of aesthetic merit, to which morality does not apply. The conductor Daniel Barenboim, a Jew, is a champion of Wagner’s music, for example, and has made a point of playing it in Israel, where it is hardly welcome. His defense is that while Wagner may have been reprehensible, his music is not. Barenboim likes to say that Wagner did not compose a single note that is anti-Semitic. And the disconnect between art and morality goes further than that: not only can a “bad” person write a good novel or paint a good picture, but a good picture or a good novel can depict a very bad thing. Think of Picasso’s Guernica or Nabokov’s Lolita , an exceptionally good novel about the sexual abuse of a minor, described in a way that makes the protagonist seem almost sympathetic.

He cites so many examples that the answer to the question "Can bad people create good art?" becomes obvious. His conclusion is that great artists tend to live more for their art than for other people. So they care more about leaving behind works that can inspire all of humanity than they do having possitive relationships with actual, real people.

Mull over a little William Butler Yeats:

Oh chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the hole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?