How do we feel about author information? Authors are like painters and sculptors and filmmakers – they are not inseparably joined to the art, not physically. Not knowing who the artist is doesn’t detract from the significance of the piece. And I argue that at times, it’s preferable not to know. The freedom to be completely absorbed in the experience without intrusion. Yes, sometimes the artists are the intruders.
Does it matter that Caravaggio was an asshole or Truman Capote a sly little drunkard? Perhaps. Perhaps not. At least not at this point. Were Caravaggio alive today, we might have another view of his destructive, murderous temper. Distance can seal the gap.
And then there are the instances of a work being enhanced by the physical presence of the creator. Music is like this: people are interested in the performance, not just the music. Popularity of singers and bands often are not judged on the quality of work, but the allure of the presentation. If paintings and books were judged on the attraction of the artist, how many works would be rejected?
Truman Capote’s sensual author picture on the back cover of Other Voices, Other Rooms is what threw that genius of a writer into the spotlight. His work was worthy of attention, but the come hither look of the young author is in part what made the public, well, go hither and read his words. Would his popularity have been affected had it not been for that debut photograph? I’d like to think not. But soon his work was overshadowed by the troubled man beyond the pages.
Henry Miller, who was unmistakably a complete ass, became more charming once I saw an interview with him as a much older gentleman, that took place in his bathroom, of all places. Is he still an asshole? Yes. But now he is a forgivable asshole.
I had both condemned him and forgiven him long ago when I read his words. Words that made me want to slap the piss out of him, and also drew me in to worship. I wanted to lick those words right off the pages, no matter how tainted they were.
So does it matter? Are there forgivable and unforgivable sins? Is there a line to be crossed, a curtain which should be kept drawn? Pay no attention to the artist behind the art. The magic is in the meaning.