Is it possible to love the art and loathe the artist? Why not? I’m sure there must be more than one person whose emotions are stirred by Wagner’s music yet who experiences guilt because a part of themselves over which they have no control has responded positively to a composer with well-publicised anti-Semitic views, one who was later adopted as the in-house tunesmith of the Nazis. It’s true that the art is an extension of the person who created it; the art is as much a part of them as their physical being; but it could be argued that the art is the best of them, the aspect of them that matters above everything else, the aspect of them that renders whatever else they do in their lives, good or bad, irrelevant.
If I might be excused a moment of self-indulgence, I remember being devastated as a small child when every picture I drew or DIY comic I made with my own pencil mysteriously disappeared from my bedroom whenever I returned home from school. My mother considering them fit for nothing but the dustbin to me implied that’s all I was fit for. I considered my ‘art’ to be the best of me. There, self-indulgence done. Anyway, this is why it is fundamentally ridiculous that, say, Gary Glitter records are blacklisted from oldies radio stations – a major artist of a specific era in British pop music can no longer be included in the roll-call of its leading lights; and it has nothing to do with his art. For decades after Oscar Wilde’s arrest, trial and imprisonment, his works went unperformed in this country and his name was a dirty word. Hard to imagine now, but it happened; and it was all about the artist, not the art.
It is possible to be fond of or even like a person who has enough good about them to enable us to overlook those elements of them we dislike. It should be, anyway. That’s what being ‘grown-up’ is all about, isn’t it – that ability to accept aspects of others that contradict some of our own aspects, beliefs or opinions? Well, in an online age of instant hate campaigns, that’s not always evident. Discourse has regressed to juvenilia in many cases, so that any unpopular opinion expressed embodies the whole of the person who expressed it. Not in favour of gay marriage? Scum of the earth – end of. In favour of fox-hunting? Scum of the earth – end of. There is no room for debate or discussion. That one opinion represents everything you are. It utterly defines you.
For all its innumerable faults, Parliament could not continue – indeed, could never have existed in the first place – were it to adopt the same attitude. Whenever an especially contentious vote is taken in the Commons, unlikely cross-party alliances are regularly formed for the duration; there may be huge ideological divisions between the respective members of the alliance, but these are put to one side in order that a crucial shared belief can momentarily unite opposites. It can even sometimes stretch to a far longer arrangement. How else was the Coalition Government of 2010-15 able to last the course of a full five-year term? How else has the Northern Ireland Assembly managed to outlive every other previous attempt at bringing the two Ulster communities to the same political table?
If we’re not careful, we could be in danger of losing this skill. We could end up like those fanatical football fans who won’t have the colour worn by the rival team they hate anywhere in their house. Having being a vegetarian for over 25 years, most of my close friends throughout that quarter-century have been meat-eaters. Has this altered my opinion of them in any way? Has it made me think any less of them? Has it placed our friendship in peril? Has it hell. Sure, we all possess certain strongly-held beliefs on some subjects, but to expect everyone in our orbit to fall into line with our own viewpoint on everything is little more than pure narcissism. I used to live with a girl who owned a lot of UB40 albums – and not the early UB40, who were at times on a par with The Specials, but the cabaret reggae incarnation of the band from the mid-80s onwards. I couldn’t bloody stand hearing it. But she had more going for her than what I considered to be an occasionally lousy taste in music. We didn’t eventually go our separate ways just because my ears could no longer tolerate ‘Red Red Wine’ one more time.
It goes without saying that if one is best buddies with a person one discovers to be an active serial killer, friendship should really have its limits. But that’s a slightly different kettle of fish to disowning somebody because they convert to a religion and we’re atheist, or if they vote Tory and we vote Labour, or if they support Manchester United and we support Manchester City. If they’re able to tolerate elements of us that they find not to their taste, we should be able to do likewise. If not, where are we? Probably in the NUS.
© The Editor