Edited by Jani McCutcheon and Fiona McGaughey
Chapter 23: The artist turned criminal: emotional obstacles to severing the body from the body of work
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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