April 17, 2024

Can We Separate the Art from the Artist?

Event Series: Free Speech at the Crossroads: International Dialogues

Showing the Can We Separate the Art from the Artist? Video

History is rife with artists who created inspiring work, but were considered questionable characters at best, and despicable at worst. Caravaggio, the renowned sixteenth century Italian painter, was also known as a notorious criminal and a murderer. Immediately after the death of Klaus Kinski, one of the greatest actors of the twentieth century, his daughter revealed that for years he had sexually abused her. In the twenty-first century, when egregious behavior has come to be more closely scrutinized, talented artists and crafty gatekeepers, such as Roman Polanski, Harvey Weinstein, and Kanye West, have not been spared from public condemnation. In these times, when creative people have been “canceled” or criticized for an assortment of reasons, is it ever truly possible to separate the art from the artist?

This event is co-sponsored by the Free Speech Project (Georgetown University) and the Future of the Humanities Project (Georgetown University and Blackfriars Hall and Campion Hall, Oxford).


Dennis de Caires was born in Guyana and works in London and Barbados, where he is one of the directors of the Brighton Storeroom. He studied painting at Winchester School of Art, the Royal College of Art in London, and Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, and his work has been widely shown internationally.

Estelle Thompson is a British abstract artist and head of graduate painting in the Slade School of Fine Art at the University College London. She graduated from the Royal College of Art, has exhibited internationally, and received major commissions to incorporate color in the built environment of public buildings across the United Kingdom. Her work references the history of abstract painting and is informed by contemporary aesthetics, optics, color, and material presence.

Mary Beth Willard is a professor of philosophy at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, and teaches a variety of courses to undergraduates, including an introductory class on Philosophy as a Way of Life. She writes primarily on metaphysics and aesthetics. Willard is author of Why It's OK to Enjoy the Work of Immoral Artists (2021), a book about how society should treat the art of morally troubling artists.

Michael Scott (moderator) is senior dean, fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, college adviser for postgraduate students, and a member of the Las Casas Institute. He also serves as senior adviser to the president of Georgetown University. Scott previously was the pro-vice-chancellor at De Montfort University and founding vice-chancellor of Wrexham Glyndwr University.

Sanford J. Ungar (moderator), president emeritus of Goucher College, is director of the Free Speech Project at Georgetown University, which documents challenges to free expression in American education, government, and civil society. Director of the Voice of America under President Bill Clinton, he was also dean of the American University School of Communication and is a former co-host of "All Things Considered" on NPR.