One Must Separate the Creator From His Creation

My friend, Brian drew this recent article in the Telegraph to my attention https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/05/22/hot-handel-royal-academy-music-could-dump-artefacts-composer/.

In “Too Hot to Handel”, the Telegraph reports that the Royal Academy of Music is considering disposing of artifacts associated with the composer, due to Handel having invested in the slave trade. It also mentions that Mozart is being reviewed due to his father Leopold having been hosted by those involved in the slave trade during his visit to England.

I have always been of the view that one should consider a work of art (whether music, literature or painting) on it’s own merits. It matters not whether the author was a person of virtue or a disreputable reprobate. If there artistic creation is sublime, then that is what it is.

Slavery was (and remains) an abhorrent practice. However to state this fact is irrelevant when considering the value of Handel (or any other creative person’s work). Of course one may pause when listening to the Messiah and ponder on how a man who could produce such sublime music could have profited from human misery. But, in the end beautiful music remains beautiful music.

One must also view Handel in the context of his time. Many people participated in slavery either as investors or as sailors who brought human cargoes from Africa. It was (and remains) an abominable trade, but whilst condemning past men may give us a feeling of moral superiority, it does not aid our understanding of Handel’s work.

One of my favourite poets (probably my favourite), is Ernest Christopher Dowson. He lived a decadent life and died at the age of 32. During his career he spent much time in the arms of prostitutes and this contributed to some of his most moving verse, including Cynara, https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2011/mar/14/non-sum-qualis-cynarae-dowson.

I have no interest in what consenting adults choose to do in private, and this view extends to those who consort with the world’s oldest profession. However, even if one holds that those who patronise prostitutes (as Dowson did) are immoral persons who exploit the vulnerable, it is important to judge the worth of an artistic creation on it’s own merits and (so far as is humanly possible) to separate the creator from his creation.

As always I would be interested in the views of my readers.

5 thoughts on “One Must Separate the Creator From His Creation

  1. Chris The Story Reading Ape

    We tend to forget, or refuse to recognise, that slavery has been around for millennia, probably since the first time one tribe defeated another in battle. Even the Christian Church dealt in slavery in its early days, as a means to finance itself.
    To sweep references and historical figures associated with slavery under the carpet, is to remove slavery from sight, not remove it from society. Better to keep them, and it, in plain sight, with the facts stated.

    Reply
    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      Many thanks for your comments, Chris. I agree with you. Removing statues of slavers Etc (E.G. by placing them in museums) removes them from the public gaze (as many people don’t visit museums). Also people are complex beings. The man who dealt in slaves often did give to charity as was the case with Edward Coulson. That does not, in any way nullify his involvement in slavery it does, however paint a more complex picture of the man and other similar individuals. Kevin

      Reply
  2. OIKOS™-Editorial

    So if you throw out Handel, the Germans won’t like you anymore. Lol
    We like your Rosamunde Pilcher and the Cornish area so much. 😉
    In all honesty, it may be a problem to measure the conditions at that time against today’s thinking. We would then have to the remaining nobility and the Roman Catholic Church. Also ask the church to pay again. Michael

    Reply
    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      Thanks for your comments, Michael. I’m glad you are fond of Cornwall! I agree, its problematic when one tries to apply today’s moral perspective to past centuries. Kevin

      Reply

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