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Why good art can be dangerous

Paul Gauguin’s Arearea

“Can a work of art be separated from its creator?” An upcoming Channel 4 show is putting this age-old philosophical conundrum to the test, says Martha Gill in The Observer. A studio audience will be presented with works by unsavoury artists, like Hitler and paedophile Rolf Harris, and asked to vote on whether presenter Jimmy Carr should destroy them. I think bad art is “perfectly safe to consume”: we are insulated from the soul of the artist by a “thick layer of plexiglass cliché”. Hitler’s “postcard watercolours”, after all, “might have been created by any number of sentimental daubers”.

Far more dangerous are “great but corrupt artists”, for they try to persuade us to join them in their depravity. Paul Gauguin was a child abuser who took underage Tahitian girls as his sex slaves, and his paintings “invite the viewer to join him in gazing lustfully at these same teenagers”. Caravaggio, genius and murderer, “produced art that makes violence beautiful” – the bright spurts of blood give you “a taste of what it might be like to want to kill someone”. Current sensibilities assume that all great art and literature is somehow “improving”; judges have even taken to prescribing criminals reading lists. But you can hardly argue that Lolita and The Picture of Dorian Gray were written with moral enlightenment in mind. “How do we deal with immoral art? It’s still a question worth grappling with.”