The idea of the eccentric, outrageous creative genius – the 'mad, bad and dangerous to know' artiste – has proved surprisingly durable over centuries.
It's a mythology that has insulated a certain type of artist from public censure over bad private behaviour. Lately, though, the mood is far less forgiving for artists who have caused serious harm and hurt in their personal lives. But as a re-setting of standards takes place, we're left with some wicked problems. As Ashleigh Wilson has written in his recent essay, On Artists: 'If we denounce the artist, then what do we do with the work? Once we start removing paintings from walls, where do we stop?'
On 12 June at the Wheeler Centre, Wilson will be joined by Luke Carman and Shaad D'Souza for a broad discussion about accountability and creative legacies, in conversation with Bhakthi Puvanenthiran. They’ll talk addiction, mental illness and cults of personality in the arts, as well as cancel culture and boycotts in the era of #metoo.
Who decides what qualifies as bad behaviour? Are we on a slippery slope of moral panic? And while individuals can make up their own minds about the art they enjoy in private, how should public institutions and media navigate this tricky terrain?
Ashleigh Wilson has been a journalist for almost two decades. He began his career at the Australian in Sydney before spending several years in Brisbane, covering everything from state politics to the Hollingworth crisis to indigenous affairs.
He then moved north to become the paper’s Darwin correspondent, a posting bookended by the Falconio murder trial and the Howard government’s intervention in remote Aboriginal communities. During that time he won a Walkley Award for reports on unethical behaviour in the Aboriginal art industry, a series that led to a Senate inquiry.
He returned to Sydney in 2008 and has been the paper’s Arts Editor since 2011. He is the author of Brett Whiteley: Art, Life and the Other Thing (Text, 2016) and On Artists (MUP, 2019). He lives in Sydney.
Luke Carman is the author of An Elegant Young Man, which won the 2014 NSW Premier's New Writing Award and was shortlisted for the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal, the Steele Rudd Short Story Prize and the Readings New Writing Award. He was named a Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Novelist in 2014. His new book is Intimate Antipathies, a collection of essays on the writing life, published by Giramondo in June 2019.
Shaad D’Souza is a writer, editor and critic from Melbourne. Currently the FADER's Australian News Editor, he has written on music, art and culture for publications including Pitchfork, the Guardian, the Saturday Paper, Billboard, i-D and New York Magazine. Shaad was previously Australian editor of Noisey, VICE's music vertical, and currently serves on the board of directors for music industry non-profit The Push and the Arts Centre's Australian Music Vault.
Bhakthi Puvanenthiran is Managing Editor of Crikey, writing mainly on politics and the media. Previously Bhakthi was a journalist and editor at the Age and Sydney Morning Herald covering arts, entertainment and business. She co-hosted the podcast Hard Bargain, is a regular media commentator and sits on the board of the National Young Writers’ Festival.