I recently read the article Why we're not joining in the celebration of typographer Eric Gill. The article talks about Eric’s great work, and of some of the horrid things he did in his past (rape). The article brings up a question I have often had when it comes to art: if someone has done terrible things during their life, can you still like their art? Or does your opinion of the person taint your opinion of their work?
However, as we all interpret the world around us differently, our art is an expression of those interpretations. It is not meant to be taken literally.
The French literary critic Roland Barthes writes in his essay The Death of the Author, that someone’s writing is not to be analyzed by the information about the real-life person who created it. He suggests that you have to distance yourself from the work, and see it for what it is as creation separate from the person that created it. Barthes argues that if you were to view a work through the author’s eyes, you would have nothing to gain, and would be guessing as to what the author was thinking when they created it. It is only through your own life experiences, and interpretations that you can fully experience the writing, or anything creative for that matter.
I agree with Barthes to a point. I think you can enjoy an artist’s creations knowing he/she had a dark side. You’ll likely have clouded opinions of the work, but you’ll also have an opportunity to look at the art from a different light. You can raise questions and try to understand where the artist was coming from at that point in time when they created their art. Regardless of whether you are able to distance yourself from the emotional connection, or choose to remain blissfully ignorant regarding an artist’s vile personal history, the question remains: is great art is still great art?