In a recent op-ed piece for the New York Times, writer Charles McGrath attempts to unpack the question of whether bad people can create good art. Obviously evil deeds don’t prevent a person from making something awesome. McGrath goes further, arguing that the traits of bad people facilitate artistic genius:
There are countless artists who seemingly lead decent, morally upstanding lives, who don’t beat their wives, slur the Jews, or even cheat on their taxes. There are many more of these, one wants to say, than of the other sort, the Wagners, Rimbauds, Byrons, et al., who are the exception rather than the rule. And yet the creation of truly great art requires a degree of concentration, commitment, dedication, and preoccupation—of selfishness, in a word—that sets the artist apart and makes not an outlaw, exactly, but a law unto himself.
Well. Despite McGrath’s countless stream-of-consciousness examples (the anti-Semitism of Wagner, Degas, and Ezra Pound; Norman Mailer’s attempted murder of one of his wives, Byron’s incest, Dickens’ decision to ship his son to Australia because he didn’t see him well-suited for a career in London, etc.), what about good people who create good art? Either McGrath can’t seem to think of any specifics, or the drama-free good eggs aren’t interesting enough to merit a mention. Maybe it’s that they don’t really exist, as he indicates in his final quip: “The cruel thing about art—of great art, anyway—is that it requires its practitioners to be wrapped up in themselves in a way that’s a little inhuman.”
What do you think? Read the article in its entirety here.