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Can You Separate A Sexist From His Work?

Illustration for article titled Can You Separate A Sexist From His Work?

Earlier this week we wrote about Norman Mailer, who, along with a bunch of other male writers, was a misogynist both in work and in his private life. But how do you consider an artist whose 2-dimensional work is largely reverent towards females but was a total jerk to 3-dimensional women? I'm thinking about Picasso and Klimt here. Two articles that appeared in the new issue of the Economist stress the unfortunate way both artists treated the women in their lives. Klimt "was a womanizer with uncalculated conquests and seven known children," though his art was almost exclusively glittering portraits of women emerging from colorful mosaics.


Picasso's indiscretions are even more well known, and his artistic relationship to women is more complex. He hopped from several wives and mistresses throughout his life, and when his relationship to then-wife Olga Khokhlova was disintegrating, he painted her with "either distortion or radical dismemberment and reconstruction." His mistress at the time, though, the 17-year-old Marie-Thérèse Walter, was painted without a "trace of anger or misogyny."


Both Picasso and Klimt are somewhat unassailable as great artists. Does it affect your view of their work to know that the women in their lives suffered far greater indignities than the women on their canvases? Who deserves to be in the Fine Art Hall Of Shame, as far as misogyny goes?

Gustav Klimt: A Lover Of Women [The Economist]
Picasso's life:
His Middle Years [The Economist]

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Art is powerful. (Political movements know well the power of images, music and editing.) Art at it's best can help you see truth from a different angle (picasso/cubism) or just give you a moment of step-away beauty (personally, I'm a Klimt fan in this way.) But artists' biographies? Whatevs. Not nearly as inspirational, and so not important in the act of viewing. If they don't use their art to promote ickiness, I won't judge them as lesser artists.

If they're child rapists however, I'd boycott their work on principle. It's not about the art, it's about not supporting criminal activities.