Can a work of art have value regardless of who creates it? Can, and should, we look past the character of the artist - however immoral we consider them to be - and simply experience and esteem the work itself?

Consider these lines; perhaps you know them:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough

I first came across this poem 35 years ago. Though tastes may vary, it still works for me. But as you may well know, it's by Ezra Pound, who was a propagandist for Mussolini and a virulent anti-Semite. If I bring that to mind as I think about the poem, it leaves an unpleasant taste. But I don't think this shows that the poem itself is less valuable, and I also don't think it means that one can't legitimately take pleasure in it.

Whether all cases work this way is another matter. Pound was trying to present a pure image. A good deal of art isn't like that. Outside the context of art, knowing how to interpret someone's words or gestures sometimes calls for knowing something about the person. It doesn't seem crazy to think that this could also be true for certain works of art, though there is a large and long-standing debate here.

On the main question, however, it's hard to see why the answer shouldn't be yes. Sometimes we can say: the artist was wicked. But few people, if any, are wicked through and through, and it would take a good deal of argument to show that that everything a wicked person does expresses wickedness. Indeed, the fact that someone whom one can't admire all things considered can still produce beauty might well evoke compassion rather than revulsion.

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