That's the problem with converting real, gnarly, inconsistent human beings into cartoon idols. Then there's a terrible let-down when the clay feet peek out from under the gilded robe.

Picasso was abusive to his female lovers and companions, and made openly misogynistic pronouncements. Beethoven was kind of a jerk to some of his family members. Dickens treated his wife quite cruelly (and had a slightly creepy fascination with teenage girls). Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) had an even creepier fascination with prepubescent girls. C S Lewis' work mirrored the sexism and homophobia of his day; J R R Tolkien's work is arguably both racist and antidemocratic. Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) was frankly and openly racist, like Rudyard Kipling.

There's an awful lot of "gee I wish I hadn't found that out about X" waiting for you, if you start looking. I've had some of my idols seriously tarnished over the years for sure, but that was really my fault for setting them up as idols in the first place.

And yet all these people have left cultural legacies that in some way transcend their moral and intellectual limitations (even when, as with writers, those limitations are clearly on display in their texts). While critique of the work is always essential, I don't think the work and the person can be completely conflated. Some troubled (and troubling) people have produced beautiful art. Some very nice, kind, wonderful people have produced really mediocre art that never inspired anybody much.

I'm not arguing here for the Great Artist Get Outta Jail Free Card (a common theme in the Western canon); I think we can and should examine the lives and beliefs of Great Cultural Figures we admire, precisely so that we can understand how their prejudices and ignorances bled through into their work. And also to discourage in ourselves the bad habit of idolatry.

There's an old saying, "Even a stopped clock is right twice a day." And I think this applies to artists, great or obscure, tortured or calm. You can be a jerk and still produce beauty. You can be right-on in your understanding of X and utterly out to lunch in your understanding of Y. We all can be. I suspect we all are.

Pulling the gilded robes off our idols and examining those clay feet more closely is most valuable, I think, if it teaches us about our own internal inconsistencies and undermines our unexamined certainties. Ideally, rather than turning us into book-burning zealots (throwing all those babies out with their tainted bath water) it could make us more tolerant of each other's flawed, imperfect human nature, our shared vulnerability to silly beliefs and proudly defended ignorance. It could remind us that what we take for granted as revealed truth today may look very foolish two generations hence.

Retired; ex-software engineer. Paleo-feminist. Sailor. Arduino tinkerer. Enviro. Libertarian Socialist (Anarcho-Syndicalist, kinda). Writer. Altermondialiste.

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