Nasty Artists

by Chris Horner

One day, I used to say to myself and anyone else who’d listen, I’m going to write a book called ‘everything you know about these people is wrong’. I have given up on the idea, and I expect anyway that someone else has already done it. What prompted the repeated thought was the way in which so little of what well known thinkers and artists did or said is actually reflected in public consciousness,  assuming it makes a showing at all. This can lead people to reject the idea of engaging with them before they’ve even had time to discover the ideas or experiences they might have learned from or enjoyed. Clearly, not everything will be to everyone’s taste, but you can’t know until you give it, or them, a try.

What makes this problematic is that it is the least credible – and creditable  – things that they have supposedly said or did that hang round them like a bad smell: Nietzsche the proto facist, Freud the sex mad coke addict, Marx the totalitarian etc. Popular beliefs about many of the key figures of modernity are often seriously askew, and sometimes at 180′ from the truth:  Nietzsche was neither anti Semitic, nor a nationalist; Freud didn’t say it was ‘all about sex’; Marx wasn’t a proponent of a one party state, etc. It is almost as if whatever the popular view is of these figures, the truth lies in the opposite direction. So my instinct is to try to put the record straight. But what to do when the popular idea of an artist or thinker actually does correspond to something real – something true and bad? 

Take Richard Wagner as a classic example. Read more »