42 min

The Morality of the Artist and the Art Moral Maze

    • Religion & Spirituality

“Leaving Neverland”, a two-part TV documentary broadcast this week, details child sex abuse claims against Michael Jackson. The renewed allegations have prompted a debate about whether we should stop listening to his music. Some believe a boycott takes an important moral stand against the late singer’s alleged crimes. To pay any such artist the compliment of our appreciation, they say, is to undermine the victims. Others think the moral character of the artist has no bearing on the worth of the art. In his essay ‘The Death of the Author’, the French literary critic Roland Barthes argues that a book and its creator are entirely unrelated. Is he right? Does a work of art have intrinsic moral value? Or should we reappraise certain works in light of the questionable behaviour and beliefs of the cultural figures that created them? Charles Dickens, who has a worldwide reputation as a compassionate moralist, was also (according to recently-unearthed letters) a ruthless husband who tried to have his wife locked up in a lunatic asylum because "she had outgrown his liking.” Should we judge any public figures (now or in the past) by their private lives and prejudices, or should we rate them instead on their competence and achievements?

Producer: Dan Tierney

“Leaving Neverland”, a two-part TV documentary broadcast this week, details child sex abuse claims against Michael Jackson. The renewed allegations have prompted a debate about whether we should stop listening to his music. Some believe a boycott takes an important moral stand against the late singer’s alleged crimes. To pay any such artist the compliment of our appreciation, they say, is to undermine the victims. Others think the moral character of the artist has no bearing on the worth of the art. In his essay ‘The Death of the Author’, the French literary critic Roland Barthes argues that a book and its creator are entirely unrelated. Is he right? Does a work of art have intrinsic moral value? Or should we reappraise certain works in light of the questionable behaviour and beliefs of the cultural figures that created them? Charles Dickens, who has a worldwide reputation as a compassionate moralist, was also (according to recently-unearthed letters) a ruthless husband who tried to have his wife locked up in a lunatic asylum because "she had outgrown his liking.” Should we judge any public figures (now or in the past) by their private lives and prejudices, or should we rate them instead on their competence and achievements?

Producer: Dan Tierney

42 min

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