Sunday, June 22, 2014

The art is not the artist #2: George Orwell on Salvador Dali

From George Orwell's "Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali":
One ought to be able to hold in one's head simultaneously the two facts that Dali is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being. The one does not invalidate or, in a sense, affect the other. The first thing that we demand of a wall is that it shall stand up. If it stands up, it is a good wall, and the question of what purpose it serves is separable from that. And yet even the best wall in the world deserves to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration camp. In the same way it should be possible to say, ‘This is a good book or a good picture, and it ought to be burned by the public hangman.’ Unless one can say that, at least in imagination, one is shirking the implications of the fact that an artist is also a citizen and a human being.

Not, of course, that Dali's autobiography, or his pictures, ought to be suppressed. Short of the dirty postcards that used to be sold in Mediterranean seaport towns, it is doubtful policy to suppress anything, and Dali's fantasies probably cast useful light on the decay of capitalist civilisation. But what he clearly needs is diagnosis. The question is not so much what he is as why he is like that. It ought not to be in doubt that his is a diseased intelligence, probably not much altered by his alleged conversion, since genuine penitents, or people who have returned to sanity, do not flaunt their past vices in that complacent way. He is a symptom of the world's illness. The important thing is not to denounce him as a cad who ought to be horsewhipped, or to defend him as a genius who ought not to be questioned, but to find out why he exhibits that particular set of aberrations.
I've been thinking about this essay and moral art and the art of bad people for a few days now. Orwell focuses on Dali's more repugnant images; he doesn't say anything about the innocuous ones, like the melting clocks that I loved so much as a boy. I like to think he'd agree that liking some of an artist's work does not oblige you to like it all.
Source via r_a_g_s comments on Marion Zimmer Bradley was a child abuser - says her own daughter.