Good art made by bad people: where we draw the line

Published 11 months ago -

Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907

From Pablo Picasso to John Lennon, some of the best artists throughout history haven’t always been the most outstanding citizens. Pablo Picasso has been called a womanizer—married, yet sleeping around with different women as he pleased. “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” was one of Picasso’s most famous works. This piece was said to be the “most innovative painting since the work of Giotto”. Though many are aware of Picasso’s personal history, critics do not seem to look at his work through this lens.

Often times, when a great piece is created, those appreciating it don’t necessarily recognize the flaws of the person as hindering the value of the work of art they created. This may be a flaw of judgement on the part of the viewer as it is nearly impossible to disconnect a work of art from the artist that created it. If the artist did not exist in the way that they do, experience the things that they have experienced, that piece of art would not exist or might be radically different from the work they may have created if they lived their lives in any other way.

Ethics and aesthetics are not the same thing—art may be appreciated by the way it seems on the surface, yet art is so much more than simply the way that it looks. Artists do not create meaningless art. In everything they do, they have some kind of inner meaning or message behind it. You may like the way that something looks on the surface, yet the actual message it portrays may go against your own ethical beliefs. For this reason, the ability to appreciate a piece of great art may be hindered by the actions or beliefs of the artist that created it or the message behind it.

Certain pieces of art speak to us due to our own experiences. Often times, we are drawn to a work of literature, piece of music, or a painting or drawing due to the feeling it gives us. However, we should not disconnect art from its creator. No matter how much a piece speaks to us, it will always be connected to the artist.

Back before the rise of social media, the bad-doings of famous artists weren’t as widely recognized and condemned. Today, their actions are publicized and this can have negative effects on the young fans that look up to them. Their actions can influence bad behavior to youth who are still trying to figure out their identity and how to distinguish right from wrong.

Art is often an expression of value and of the artist’s personal values. Therefore, to appreciate a work of art is to appreciate the artist’s values. By appreciating and admiring Picasso’s work, are we also appreciating his values—no matter how much we do not think the piece of art reflects the values he possesses. Being a bad person does not necessarily make their art irrelevant, but it definitely gives us a better idea of their mindset and how we should interpret their work. By supporting the art, we are supporting the artist.


Celia Smith, a junior, studies English, psychology and studio art. She is a staff writer for Le Provocateur.

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