Alex Massie

Judging Arthur Miller and Gunter Grass

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That wise owl Terry Teachout responds to the brouhaha over the revelation that Arthur Miller "deleted" his Downs-syndrome son from his life, by digging into his vast archive to retrieve the column he wrote when Gunter Grass's youthful service in the Waffen SS came to public attention. Mr Teachout reminds us of five important principles whose application is by no means confined to artists in trouble:

1. Judging the sins of the past by the standards of the present can be a shortcut to self-righteousness. Make sure you have all the facts--and that you understand their historical context--before passing sentence.

2. Don't lose your sense of proportion.

3.Remember the Golden Rule. As Somerset Maugham said, "I do not believe that there is any man, who if the whole truth were known of him, would not seem a monster of depravity."

4. The work is what matters most...

5. ...But artists are human beings, too... The ability to make great art excuses no man his basic human responsibilities.

The whole thing is well worth reading.

In Arthur Miller's case, Teachout concludes:

I don't think Arthur Miller made beautiful art. Judging by the Vanity Fair piece that revealed to the world the heartless way in which he treated his fourth child, it would appear that his soul was no more beautiful. I wish these two things were necessarily related. That would make the world a more orderly and intelligible place. But they aren't, and--alas--it isn't.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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