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Art, ambition, and the selfish monstrousness of creation

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2017

Claire Dederer’s recent essay for The Paris Review, What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?, starts off with a discussion of the ethical and moral issues around appreciating the art of men who are monsters (e.g. Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, or Picasso):

They did or said something awful, and made something great. The awful thing disrupts the great work; we can’t watch or listen to or read the great work without remembering the awful thing. Flooded with knowledge of the maker’s monstrousness, we turn away, overcome by disgust. Or … we don’t. We continue watching, separating or trying to separate the artist from the art. Either way: disruption. They are monster geniuses, and I don’t know what to do about them.

Interesting enough, right? I don’t want to spoil it too much, but the essay takes a sharp turn about halfway through, leading to a fascinating examination of the necessary selfishness of artists.

There are many qualities one must possess to be a working writer or artist. Talent, brains, tenacity. Wealthy parents are good. You should definitely try to have those. But first among equals, when it comes to necessary ingredients, is selfishness. A book is made out of small selfishnesses. The selfishness of shutting the door against your family. The selfishness of ignoring the pram in the hall. The selfishness of forgetting the real world to create a new one.

Really worth reading the whole thing…I’ve been thinking about it constantly since I read it the other day.