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Is it rational to condemn an artwork for an artist’s personal immorality?

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There is a long history of concern over art created by people who have done horrible things. (Hitler’s paintings are one classic source of controversy.) The #MeToo movement has shown just how widespread such cases are. It is one thing to condemn Chuck Close, James Levine, or R. Kelly for their alleged wrongdoing, but another to regard their artworks as though they were somehow polluted by association with their creators.“Magical contagion” is the inclination that people have to act as though the essence of a person can be transmitted to another via some object associated with that person. This inclination is widespread and persistent. In one experiment, subjects were asked to imagine that a sweater had belonged to someone evil, like Hitler, and asked to try it on. Most subjects were reluctant try it on, simply from having imagined an association with Hitler. People don’t want to associate with material things that are associated with evil.Art, more than ordinary objects, is often associated with the moral character of their creators. For example, Confucius claimed that the music of the great sage-king Shun was superior to the music of lesser kings (Analects 3.25). Art made by virtuous artists is beneficial; art made by vicious and cruel people is dangerous.While this inclination is widespread, it is not clear that it is rational. There is no plausible physical explanation of how a person’s moral essence could be transferred: first to an artwork, and thereby to an audience.However, there is another way to make sense of this inclination besides belief in magical contagion. Consider what Ted Cohen called “affective communities.” These are communities of people who care about a work of art, and so come to see one another as members of a community. Caring about an artwork brings the audience into a relationship with others who love the same work, and sometimes with the artist her- or himself.Some of these communities are well-known and clearly established: Bloomsday,. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

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