Because I am sensitive to censorship issues, I seriously thought about deleting that blog post.
The person who sent the email is a longtime friend, someone I respect. In the past, he’s given sound advice on a myriad of concerns. As far as I know, he’s never met any of the people mentioned in that blog post. He doesn’t have a particular axe to grind, and yet he was disappointed in my conduct.
Admittedly, I’m not terribly familiar with the particulars of Picasso’s life. I’ve been blown away by Picasso exhibits (most notably, Picasso: The Early Years 1882-1906, which I viewed on multiple occasions at The National Gallery of Art in 1997), and have seen hundreds of his paintings. I know he was a philanderer. I know he’s not exactly a feminist icon. But was he ever accused of physical, sexual, and/or psychological abuse? That, I do not know.
But let’s just accept, for argument’s sake, that Picasso was guilty of the worst one could suspect against him. While those crimes may have been tolerated a century ago, must we tolerate them today?
What if, in 1900, gallerists told the 19-year-old Picasso that his work could not be exhibited unless he purged himself of abusive behavior? Knowing Picasso’s ambition and hunger, would he have allowed decency to be imposed on him for the sake of furthering his art?
Would he still have carried on many affairs with consenting partners? Probably. Would he have been abusive towards the women in his life if he knew it carried career implications? Probably not.
People are adaptive. If financial and artistic ambitions are jeopardized by abhorrent behavior, most would ditch that aspect of their lives PDQ. Or, to put it another way, a genius like Picasso would be smart enough to tone down his behavior.
There’s nothing essential to Picasso’s art that obligated him towards abuse. What’s scary is that we’ve allowed his example to absolve others’ sins.
Where has this gotten us?
Just as Picasso’s example hovers over us, the lives of today’s artists will be used to rationalize artists’ behavior in the next century.
I agree with my friend: artists should never be censored. If those who get their ya-yas out by abusing sexual partners want to write a novel, so be it. If commercial publishers choose to bring that novel out into the world, so be it. But a conscientious audience should not be obligated to embrace that novel.
What makes the Oprah decision so galling is that, unless I’ve horribly misread her brand for all these years, I thought she represented an idealized conscientious and socially progressive audience. There’s nothing empowering about sexual abuse. I can’t understand why she and her people are not more sensitive about the many allegations that swirl around an author she’s chosen to promote.
Simple as that.
Thank you for reading this far into my mini-diatribe. I appreciate your consideration. I’d also appreciate it if you’d read a bit further and perhaps consent to signing this online petition. It may not make for a better world today, but it could improve the world for our children. Thank you.