Mary Beth WillardJun 8, 2022
Why It's Ok to Enjoy the Work of Immoral Artists
The #metoo movement has forced many fans to consider what they should do when they learn that a beloved artist has acted immorally. One natural thought is that fans ought to give up the artworks of immoral artists, but according to Mary Beth Willard, it’s hard to find good reasons to do so. In Why It's OK to Enjoy the Work of Immoral Artists (Routledge, 2021), she contends that because most boycotts of artists won’t succeed, there’s no ethical reason to do so most of the time. She then argues that canceling artists is ethically risky because it encourages moral grandstanding.
In this interview, Allison Leigh talks to Mary Beth Willard about the differences between enjoyment and engagement when it comes to immoral artists, as well as whether we should enjoy artworks that have immoral outlooks and behaviors embedded in them. Their conversation ranges from the problems associated with collective versus individual actions, the positive effects that giving up the work of immoral artists may have for shifting cultural norms, and the distinction between public and private enjoyment.
Allison Leigh is Associate Professor of Art History and the SLEMCO/LEQSF Regents Endowed Professor in Art & Architecture at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Her research explores masculinity in European and Russian art of the eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries.