Research Handbook on Art and Law
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Research Handbook on Art and Law

Edited by Jani McCutcheon and Fiona McGaughey

Featuring international contributions from leading and emerging scholars, this innovative Research Handbook presents a panoramic view of how law sees visual art, and how visual art sees law. It resists the conventional approach to art and law as inherently dissonant – one a discipline preoccupied with rationality, certainty and objectivity; the other a creative enterprise ensconced in the imaginary and inviting multiple, unique and subjective interpretations. Blending these two distinct disciplines, this unique Research Handbook bridges the gap between art and law.
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Chapter 23: The artist turned criminal: emotional obstacles to severing the body from the body of work

Gregory Dale


When a high profile artist is convicted of a serious criminal offence, what becomes of their body of work? The offender’s artwork inevitably loses some of its desirability, evidenced through devaluation of the art in the marketplace and the unwillingness of many owners to publicly display the art. How does a self-contained work of art, capable of outlasting its creator and once celebrated on its aesthetic merits become so spoilt? This chapter contends that the answer lies in the emotions of guilt and disgust. It explores the crimes of artists Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Rolf Harris and Dennis Nona, and the subsequent treatment of their works of art. It argues that spectators become overwhelmed by feelings of guilt when confronted with the affected artworks. In addition, the artwork becomes a target of disgust, which ultimately requires the audience to withdraw from the artwork entirely. These emotions can even become so intense that they necessitate the destruction of the art.

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