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Happy people rarely produce great art

The Netflix adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda

Castigating an artist over the flaws in his character is “not just drearily self-righteous”, says Michael Deacon in The Daily Telegraph. It’s “also moronic”, because it misses a simple but crucial point about how art is made. Take Philip Larkin, who is today considered a “sexist, racist, miserly, two-timing reactionary”. All true – but if he hadn’t been so difficult, “he wouldn’t have been such a great poet”. A happier, better-adjusted person would have written blander poems, “or, most likely, no poems at all”, because happy, well-adjusted people simply don’t feel the need.

The same goes for all the other “problematic” artists: an “earnestly egalitarian Evelyn Waugh” could not have written such “joyously malicious satire”. A “dotingly uxorious Kingsley Amis” could not have written so hilariously about male – and female – misbehaviour. A woke Roald Dahl wouldn’t have written such subversive children’s stories. And a feminist Picasso might never have even picked up a paintbrush. In the absence of his “demonic compulsion to sleep with as many women as possible”, he’d probably have trained as an accountant instead. So what do we care whether he was a shit or not? It’s not as though he’s coming round for dinner to “seduce our wives, ogle our daughters and insult our mothers”. We have nothing to worry about. “He’s safely dead.” Rather than deploring these artists’ personal failings, “we should, if anything, be grateful for them”.