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. In Why It’s OK to Enjoy the Work of Immoral Artists, Mary Beth Willard argues for a more nuanced view. Enjoying art is part of a well-lived life, so we need good reasons to give it up.
And it turns out good reasons are hard to find. Willard shows that it’s reasonable to believe that most boycotts of artists won’t succeed, so most of the time there’s no ethical reason to join in. Someone who manages to separate the art from the artist isn’t making an ethical mistake by buying and enjoying their art. She then considers the ethical dimensions of canceling artists and the so-called "cancel culture," arguing that canceling is ethically risky because it encourages moral grandstanding. Willard concludes by arguing that the popular debate has overlooked the power of art to change our lives for the good.
It’s of course OK to decide to give up the artwork of immoral artists, but – as Willard shows in this provocative little volume – it’s OK to continue to enjoy their art as well.
- Offers accessible discussions of complicated philosophical topics like aesthetic value, collective action problems, and epistemic justice
- Provides a unique perspective and underexplored argument on the popular issue of cancellation
- Explores the role of aesthetic value in our lives, including its relation to our ethical decisions and our well being
Table of Contents
- Boycotts as Punishment
- Expressive Boycotts
- Separating the Art from the Artists
- Aesthetic Lives, Ethical Reasons
Mary Beth Willard is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. She received her Ph.D. from Yale University and writes primarily on topics in aesthetics and blogs at aestheticsforbirds.com.
"The question of what to do with the works of artists who have committed serious moral transgressions has never felt more pressing than it has in the years since the #metoo movement shook the foundations of the art and entertainment industry. Like many other flashpoints of contemporary discourse, discussion of this issue has been intensely polarized between strident reformers and their reactionary opponents. Little effort has been made to explore the middle ground. Mary-Beth Willard's Why it's OK to Enjoy the Work of Immoral Artists is a refreshing attempt to do just that. In a clear and accessible style, she carefully surveys a range of arguments on both sides, taking these arguments seriously while at the same time insisting that they must be critically scrutinized and weighed against competing considerations.This book is essential reading for anyone seriously interested in the topic. Many readers will find their views challenged by Willard's arguments, and whether they come away convinced or not, they will no doubt benefit from considering her thoughtful and nuanced point of view."
Matthew Strohl, University of Montana