Books

Monsters review: Do we separate the art from the artist, or boycott the work entirely?

Claire Dederer's book explores the moral question of whether we can – and should – enjoy an artist's work if they have done something bad, or hold views we disagree with

Monsters book cover

There was a time in my life when I considered Annie Hall to be my favourite film. For obvious reasons, that isn’t something that I readily admit now. In the wake of #MeToo, we find ourselves asking again and again what exactly are we meant to do with the art of bad people? If I sit down and watch, say, Rosemary’s Baby, does that mean I am forgiving Roman Polanski for his crimes against a young girl? How do we morally traverse a cultural landscape that has been so deeply stained by the reprehensible actions
of others? This is the question that Claire Dederer seeks to answer in her essay collection Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma.

Beginning with Polanski and working her way through a rogue’s gallery of problematic artists (Woody Allen, JK Rowling and Pablo Picasso are some of the obvious names; Doris Lessing, Joni Mitchell and Virginia Woolf, less obvious). Dederer considers the two diverging roads that many of us have had to face in recent years: do we separate the art from the artist or do we boycott the work entirely? Neither option is ideal – one essentially projects the artist’s crime onto the consumer, forcing them to remove all traces of artistry and vision from the final product; the other leads you down the path of essentially ignoring some of the greatest works of art, well, ever. 

Those looking for genuine guidance on which route to take will be disappointed, instead Dederer is more interested in the concept of monstrousness itself. And it makes the book all the better. It is so easy for this specific argument to fall into either reactionary politics or liberal handwringing, Dederer pushes all that aside to create an incredibly nuanced and human work. 

Barry Pierce is a journalist and cultural commentator  

Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma by Claire Dederer is out now (Sceptre, £20). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

Monsters book cover

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help us help more people by signing up for a subscription

Support your local Big Issue vendor

If you can’t get to your local vendor every week, subscribing directly to them online is the best way to support your vendor. Your chosen vendor will receive 50% of the profit from each copy and the rest is invested back into our work to create opportunities for people affected by poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Top 5 books about state control, chosen by Icelandic author Fríða Ísberg
Books

Top 5 books about state control, chosen by Icelandic author Fríða Ísberg

Fighting for justice for women in a system that's rigged against them
Justice

Fighting for justice for women in a system that's rigged against them

One Grand Summer by Ewald Arenz review – an understated and empathetic coming-of-age story
Books

One Grand Summer by Ewald Arenz review – an understated and empathetic coming-of-age story

The Eyes Are The Best Part by Monika Kim review – tension-filled horror debut delivers
Books

The Eyes Are The Best Part by Monika Kim review – tension-filled horror debut delivers

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know

Support our vendors with a subscription

For each subscription to the magazine, we’ll provide a vendor with a reusable water bottle, making it easier for them to access cold water on hot days.