Read This: “Good Art, Bad People” from

In light of our recent book club discussions on Caravaggio, de Kooning and Lee Krasner, a recent editorial in the New York Times poses and interesting question: why is it that much of the great art in the world is created by artists who fail to live up to generally accepted societal standards of morality and decency? The article’s author, New York Times arts reporter Charles McGrath lays out many examples of artists with problematic views and behaviors, including anti-Semitism, misogyny, addictions, and general orneriness, to name a few. While there are also examples of artist you wouldn’t mind inviting over for dinner with your family, McGrath posits that artists have to pour everything into their art and there is little room left over for social niceties or rule-keeping.

While I certainly know and work with many artists who are also great people, it’s hard to argue with the general premise – in my extensive readings in the lives of the great artists, most of them exhibited blatant disregard for the social standards of their time.

While this is certainly not a new question, McGrath makes some interesting points about the ‘sacrifices’ artists make in their personal lives and the pain they bring to those around them.


Read the Article, “Good Art, Bad People” from


What do you think, is great art an excuse for bad behavior? Can ‘good’ people create great art? Is the author of the article asking the right questions? Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments below.


Thanks to Ann Waters for forwarding me the article.

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  1. First, let me say that this is a good article and question and I have a Theory. Not all artists will agree with me and that’s fine, We each have the right to believe in our own way.

    Artists are certainly a, I’m going to use the term “Different” sort. God has given these Artists a talent to create, something that is quite different than a Bus driver, Accountant, and other basic vocations and while Being a Doctor requires more Knowledge and self control, an Artist is extremely “Driven” to extract from themselves that One Masterpiece, and after that, to top that one and do even better next time.

    We are also drawn to a certain group of people, all who are striving to have their work validated by each other and the world, and we have always had difficulty selling our work in even the best economy. As such, we tend to become like those we keep company with, Always trying to top the others work. It’s no wonder we have a tendency to focus our abilities in such a small area leaving others to feel left out. This does not need to be the case. We are always in control of our actions and thoughts. The balance is up to us to achieve.

    The problem begins when we forget where our talent comes from. It’s a god given gift that we should always cherish, and when we decide that we can do better than the creator himself, and forget to give him the credit, We will fall and perhaps fall terribly.

    I feel that I am a good Artist, and I strive to also be a good person. My work is inspired by God and my Talent comes from him… His word says: John.15:5 Apart from me you can do Nothing.


  2. Everyone, artist or not, has some anti social or out of norm behaviors that can be highlighted to make a point. The artists that I know who are successful, have relatively standard lives, are responsible and they work on their art all the time. I believe there is not much to this ” bad person as artist” except that people like narratives and so the stories of the weird artists get told over and over. In fact, this might be said for any proffession. Bad behavior gets attention. The other artist…not much to say. …their art speaks for themselves.

    If someone ever wanted to tell my story they would probably start with the fact that I love the Three Stooges, I haven’t had a TV since 1987, I don’t drive nor have ever owned a car and I sleep outside in the summer. You wouldn’t hear the part where all my bills are paid on time, I cook a meal every night for me and my husband, I am good to my pets and will volunteer for cause I believing in. That is all boring!

  3. Oh…In addition to my last comment, I have to say…Most people feel my work is very unique and is received very well… Also, A quote… “Stop letting people who do so little for you Control so much of your mind, feelings and emotions.” — Will Smith, a very fine Acting Artist.

  4. I saw a documentary about a late, famous Canadian sculptor and they asked his children what they thought of him. They replied they barely knew him because all he did was sculpt and had little time for them. I think that’s the good news/bad news about really intense artists. They only have time for their art, not family, friends, social interaction, rules, regulations, or anything else. Kind of a heavy price to pay.

  5. Maybe it’s creative people in general…what about musicians, writers, fashion designers and architects….Stanford White, Louis Khan as well as Frank Lloyd Wright all led pretty colorful lives.

  6. Jeanie is so right. History has shown us that a number of successful, highly creative people do not fit – or choose not to fit – society’s “norms.” Quite a few of those creatives were – or are – considered mad. Look at Mozart. Van Gogh. Pollock. Edgar Allen Poe & Ernest Hemingway, to name a few. Whether these artists were tortured souls who fought their demons with alcohol and drugs – or whether they chose to appear petulant and misunderstood to the world in order to be noticed or to appear “different” is anyone’s guess. There are some fascinating national and international seminars for physicians entitled “Creativity and Madness” that examine the work and lives of various poets, authors, musicians, visual & recording artists, dancers, etc., in order to better understand this phenomena. It is a fascinating subject.

  7. Although I do agree that creative people tend towards self-indulgence which complicates interpersonal relationships, that quality is not exclusive to them. Being an artist or musician or writer, etc. does not absolve you from behaving in a respectful manner.

    Good people can and DO make great art. Remember, the artists that we know the most about are the ones that society chose to hype and assist in becoming known. Many great artists have not achieved the notoriety of their badly behaving counterparts, yet their works are every bit as “great”. I would posit that the phenomenon of badly behaving artists has as much to do with those who elevated them to vaunted status as it does the value of the art and the character of the artists.

    Artists known throughout history have been predominantly men. Is that because there were no great women artists? I doubt it. Society chooses who they want to be great, and the narratives of the artists’ lives certainly drives society’s choices.

    Women, Jews, African Americans, other minorities, and well behaved artists have been overlooked by history because they did not fit the prevailing narrative of the gatekeepers of their time. Imagine what we have missed as a result.

  8. Artists are usually a driven people who spend long hours creating their work. When I am painting I find it difficult to talk. Perhaps it is because my work is non-representational and somewhat spontaneous. A lot of time is spent standing back from the painting to assess the next step or obliterating an earlier step in order to keep the energy and logic flowing. Talking takes me away from this meditative space where discovery happens.

  9. OK
    Yes and no
    Good, bad art?
    School, classes. my goodness, i pity the kids today that have to be graded to be good artist.. I got an A I am good.
    I got way less than an A I hated following her rules………………..
    I want/need a degree.. Are you kidding me??????????????
    With a degree you can teach art, get a job……………….. work is good. you eat, get a rep,
    My name is Judi, Judy, I have seen a lot of Judi/ys who do quilting, knitting, sculpt, decorative, damn cooking! You name it and those judis are creating it…….. love em.
    my point it … creativity… who can define it?
    ok I am a fine artist. in my soul, but I have been guilty of doing what ever I can when I only can do that.
    People, people people.. dont worry bout it. be happy. make art, figure out how to pay your bills.
    wanna sell? that is a different story. sell what people want to buy. thats it. it will change according to where you are.

  10. Art is always the main relationship for an artist. The affair is with another person. Most people can’t handle living with someone who has a more important relationship than the one they have with them. This and the pressure to make a living with your art does take a tole on anyone. As an artist you are made more aware of how different your life and its rythem is when you come into contact with non-artists. These have always been the struggles.

  11. My husband and I are still living in Canada but soon leaving to go back to the states in about two months and do have to comment that whilst living in Canada for over four years while my husband completed some public sculpture we have pretty much disassociated ourselves from artists that we met because of extreme pettiness and backstabbing. I am a cultural mormon and so along with my husband do not drink drug or indulge in promiscuous behaviour which seems to be the norm up here. We are not advocating that people should live the way we do and do not push our lifestyle on anyone but have found that our lifestyle is not respected and even sneered at. Whilst Canada is gorgous and there are positive things about it there is a lot of mean and dysfunctional behaviours amongst people in the arts and people going out of their way to sabotage you. We have had success up here but cant wait to leave and of course this goes on in the States too but Canadians make it a fine art. Before anyone gets mad at what I have said I have to say that of course that not all Canadian artists are like this but unfortunately they have to leave the country as my husband has had to. He is a dual citizen. We have also lived in New Mexico and have found the art community there to be pretty cut throat too but I have found Americans to be a different breed and much easier to get along with and they admire people who want to get ahead in their chosen field instead of beating them down like the British, Canadians do. I was born in Ireland and raised in England and France before going to the States so I do have some pretty good comparisons to make.

  12. There are no good people, that’s an illusion. And you can’t please everyone, so start be pleasing yourself. Do art you like to look at. Don’t be a poser, we know who those are and shun them.

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