As I walked through Barcelona, I came across a tiny hidden museum dedicated to Dalí. As I admired the work, I pulled up his Wikipedia page to learn more about the artist. And discovered that he refused to decry the Nazis, and had been kicked out of the Surrealist movement in part because of it (there is far more information about this on the German Wikipedia page).
There’s a quote from George Orwell, that I often think about in this context,
“[o]ne ought to be able to hold in one’s head simultaneously the two facts that Dalí is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being”
And yet. It has tainted Dalí’s work for me. It is brilliant and yet somehow I am wary of it. The dripping clocks are beautiful but I cannot quite give into it in the same way, with the knowledge that he was so… inhumane.
Genius is entwined with madness, with selfishness. But we look back and admire the work of artists and mostly don’t discover who they were aside from a genius.
This extends past art, I think, to the single minded determination to achieve anything.
Terrible parent. Numerous affairs. Alcoholic. Abusive boss. Serial womanizer. Narcissist.
A while ago, I realised that in the activist community there are people whose work that we benefit from, but that we might personally not want to be friends with.
It can be hard to reconcile this with a hero narrative. Personally, I’ve chosen to not criticise other women, to be publicly supportive or say nothing, and privately keep my distance.
In the years since I discovered this, I have watched what happens to women online and wished we would talk about what it does to you to receive constant threats. It’s amazing what you get used to. I realised when I was leaving the tech industry that someone had called me a bitch and I hadn’t even noticed. I just put it in a box and mentally noted to be wary of that guy. Would death threats also become normal, given enough of them? It terrifies me, what that might do to me. I can’t be sure what that would be. I don’t know that I would like the person who resulted all that much.
One of the most unfair things we ask of women is that they be perfect victims. I’m not sure how much of an improvement the narrative of a perfect hero is.
I dream of a day when women can be whole, entire, flawed, human beings. And we can admire what they do, or not, where we can temper our admiration with knowledge of their flaws, if we know of them, and where we can acknowledge that some things come at a cost that most of us are not prepared to pay.