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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 September 2007, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Can the art of a paedophile be celebrated?
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

Brian Davey
Brian Davey was a respected music teacher and author
A victim of a paedophile teacher has asked for his music textbooks for children to be banned. Does the work, or the art, of someone who has committed such a crime have to be condemned?

To some within the music fraternity, there are two Brian Daveys.

One a devious paedophile jailed last year for sexually abusing girls as young as four. The other was a respected music teacher who wrote books on the recorder that many tutors regard as among the best textbooks for children.

To his step-daughter Antoinette Lyons, now 33, the two are inseparable. She has waived the anonymity accorded to victims of sexual abuse to call for his books to be withdrawn: "In my opinion they were written with one aim - to get to children."

This echoes an age-old conundrum from the world of art. Can you value work produced by someone whose private life and acts you find appalling? Do the proclivities of those responsible for artistic or intellectual works have to be taken into account in their appreciation?

Fiona MacCarthy wrote a biography of the sculptor and typographer Eric Gill in 1989 that dropped a small bomb on the art world.

Gill was one of the most respected artists of the 20th Century. His statue Prospero and Ariel adorns the BBC's Broadcasting House and the Creation of Adam is in the lobby of the Palais des Nations, now the European HQ of the United Nations in Geneva.

But MacCarthy's book revealed that he regularly had sex with two of his daughters, his sisters and even the family dog. These encounters he recorded in his diary.

Piece of work

For some of Gill's fans, even looking at his work became impossible. Most problematically, he was a Catholic convert who created some of the most popular devotional art of his era, such as the Stations of the Cross in Westminster Cathedral, where worshippers pray at each panel depicting the suffering of Jesus.

Eric Gill works on Prospero and Ariel at the BBC's Broadcasting House
Gill's work remains popular
In 1998, spurred on by a cardinal's praise for Gill, Margaret Kennedy, who campaigns for Ministers and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, called for the works to be removed.

"Survivors couldn't pray at the Stations of the Cross. They were done by a paedophile. The very hands that carved the stations were the hands that abused.

"He abused his maids, his prostitutes, animals, he was having sex with everything that moved - a very deranged man sexually."

But the Catholic Church would not budge an inch. The former Westminster Cathedral administrator, Bishop George Stack, retains an unequivocal view.

"There was no consideration given to taking these down. A work of art stands in its own right. Once it has been created it takes on a life of its own."

It might be easier to make this argument for the Stations of the Cross than for nude sketches of Gill's teenage daughter.

Thoughts and deeds

Gill is not the first artist to have committed terrible misdeeds. Travel back a few hundred years and you have the moral conundrums of the work of Caravaggio [painter, killer, supposed homoerotic depiction of boys] or Gesualdo [composer and double killer].

Do we turn our eyes away from his wonderful works of art or do we try to explore further and see how they were arrived at
Fiona MacCarthy
And if attitudes count as well as deeds then there are Wagner [composer, raging anti-Semite] and Larkin [poet, supposed racist and sexist].

"If you actually stop looking or listening to people whose moral conduct you disapprove of, you are not left with all that much," MacCarthy says.

"Gill's behaviour was obviously reprehensible. He was a child abuser and he did completely renege on his Catholic principles.

"But what do we do? Do we turn our eyes away from his wonderful works of art or do we, as I think we should, try to explore further and see how they were arrived at."

Censor or celebrate

There are those who would defend Davey's books. Teachers who value the texts explain their position on internet forums. Essentially, the books are useful and contain nothing untoward - it's only the association with Davey that casts a shadow over the content.

And perhaps it could be argued that there is an important distinction between an intellectual work like this and art. A manual does not demand a sense of allegiance. It does not provoke exalted feelings in the user or a sense of celebration as some art does.

But to Davey's step-daughter the issue is simple. The books are used with children, despite it being known that he used teaching - and by extension his books - to get close to his victims.

Ms Kennedy says the feelings of the victims are as important as any philosophising - and to them a ban is a "marker of his abuse, a tangible, public statement that we find what he has done horrendous".

Berlin's Medical History Museum in 2003
Artists questioned the Nazi experiments in this Berlin show
Philosopher Mark Sheehan, of Oxford University's James Martin 21st Century School, says moral complexities do arise because of the relationship between the artist and the art in the mind of the audience.

But in Davey's case, and whether an intellectual work can be intrinsically immoral, there are echoes of a debate on the ethics of scientific data.

Ethicist Baruch Cohen once wrote that using data from Nazi experiments that involved cruelty and torture was like washing with a bar of soap made from concentration camp dead.

But Sheehan says it's possible to make a distinction between the quality of a piece of science and the ethics of how it was obtained. This might apply to Davey's work.

More is known about the private lives of artists - not least because many draw on their experiences for their work - so moral dilemmas will continue to arise. In Gill's case the outrage has not significantly undermined his status. The BBC uses Gill Sans typefaces in corporate branding and Westminster Cathedral retains its Stations of the Cross.

"There are people who said I destroyed the work for them because of what we now know. The feeling that what they knew had made those abhorrent as works of art," MacCarthy says.

"Since the book was published in 1989 his reputation has in fact increased. The [campaigners'] attitude was probably in the minority."

But for every viewer who can separate the art and the artist, there will be another who can't. For every dispassionate critic, there is another who can't ignore the crimes of the artist. For every philosophical purist, another with a gut feeling that the work of paedophiles should be shunned.

Send us your comments using the form below.

The books should continue to be published and used for what they are. By the law of averages there are nasty people working in banks for example, but there is no suggestion that we should close our accounts. Why not use the royalties to help a charity working in this area - Childline for example.
Jeremy Rawlings, Milton Keynes

According to Freud, Leonardo da vinci abused the young students in his care, as a means of satisfying his narcissistic homosexuality. Has anybody refused to look at his work on this basis?
Jeremy, London

As someone who carries out investigations of computers belonging to suspected paedophiles with a view to gathering evidence where it is available, I would challenge Alext, Ian B and any others like them to continue holding the view they do after having been forced to actually see with their own eyes the utterly revolting acts that these kind of filth perpetuate and get a thrill from viewing - I find it hard to believe that anyone, having seen this kind of material, could want anything less than complete erasure from existance of anything linked to individuals that commit such abhorrent acts.

As for bringing poets persecuted for their sexuality into the debate - sorry, how is this in any way relevant? Homosexual poets from ages gone by were persecuted due to the ignorance of the time - I pray that there will never be a time when sexually abusing defenceless children is deemed acceptable. Comparing the two situations is a huge insult to all non heterosexuals accross the world is it not?
Alex, London

Work of art, be it in any form, is a medium of expression and right of every artist. Interestingly, not everyone will look at it and draw same meaning out of it. If ten people are asked to review a painting without having any prior knowledge about the painter and his history, they will all have different perceptions about it. I think there is no need to destroy any genius' work? I agree that it may be disturbing for the victims yet how can one destroy a masterpiece for personal reasons? Secondly, I think an artist¿s personal and professional life should never be mixed up.
Meera, Karachi, Pakistan

There seem to be several arguments here on a number of different areas. The reason that Davey wrote the books was to be able to get close to children. This is very different to an artist who did terrible things but didn't produce their art to facilitate their crimes. In these cases we can differentiate between the person and the art, but in the case of Davey, the person, the work and the crime are the same thing. Maybe we should allow the books to continue being produced, but remove his authorship and give the proceeds to a charity related to the crime.

Surely whilst a convicted paedophile is in prison he simply should not be allowed to make money on the open market to enjoy as his pension when released. This is not a question about art, it is more complex than that.We should not allow our rapists and murderers to enjoy market forces whatever their creations if they are convicted and serving a prison sentence.The legal maxim stands that noone should profit from their criminal activity. Drug dealers have their assets seized. In Davey's case his work is targeted at children so any profit made is too closely connected to the subject matter of his crimes. He should not be allowed to have these books published and circulated to children. As a society we have become too politically correct.
Sascha, Edinburgh

I'm undecided. As a graphic designer who studied Eric Gill at college, I don't even like using his typeface, Gill Sans, in my work. Then again, I really used to enjoy Chris Langham's comedy work. I'd hate never to listen to his radio series again.
David, London, UK

I think the problem is that these works frighten people. They are reminders of the complexity of human life. We would much prefer it if our "monsters" could only do monstrous things as it helps us catagorise them. If the monsters are instead capable of also doing good things then it makes us feel more uncomfortable as it makes us think of them as human with both human talents and human failings.
Richard, Chester

Fullest sympathies and understanding to the victims of abusers but, if we judge all works by the worst points of their creators, we will have very little left. If the school music book is useful then use it. The fact that someone can produce a thing of meaning or beauty, but also carry out evil acts, shows us the true nature of humanity. We must use our judgement, not our prejudice when considering what is worthy.
Alext, London

There must be millions of artists, musicians, writers etc who are questionable human beings despite their ability in their chosen field, and accordingly there must be millions more fans who have to decide between their admiration for the work and revulsion for the person. The fact is, just because you like a certain painting, album or book doesn't mean you condone the unrelated actions of the creator, and there shouldn't have to be a choice unless that creator is allowed to carry on illegal activity because of who they are.
Shona, Greenock, Scotland

No need for a high profile ban of Davey's music textbooks - the publisher could quietly delete them & let the supply dwindle away. Where the crimes & the readership are so closely linked, it'd clearly be wrong to keep selling, and profiting from, them.
Hirsty, Surrey

A very difficult one. With knowledge, abhorrent; in ignorance, lauded and accepted. By the same token, should we destroy the Forth Bridge or the Bridge over the River Kwai, given that they cost so many lives, or buildings in London erected from slave labour money? A part of me says that the brain which was so depraved as to commit these sickening acts we rightly deride is the same brain that produced the creations we marvel at; perhaps these faculties aren't mutually exclusive...
Alex, Edinburgh

Possibly the copyright of a seriously criminal artist should be stripped from him and the works officially attributed to a past artist of comparable merit.
Miland Joshi, Birmingham

Miland, I almost agree with this, but the danger is we'd be headed to an Orwelllian nightmare of a society, where the authorities are able to rewrite history. The best thing to do is let people decide for themselves. If schools refuse to use this book, the publisher will probaby stop printing it.
Tony Enticknap, London

How can one contemplate even keeping it? This cannot be celebrated even though it is an artistic gift. What has happened to the moral duty to the victims who will be affected for the rest of their lives. Society needs to do the right thing.
Zainah Zain, Cardiff

Maybe these works of art should be taken down and stored away until such a time as the people who have been abused or hurt by these artists have long since passed away. Artwork done by similar artists of the past does not bother us now because there is no-one it can offend as they have long since gone.
Ben Rattigan, Hartlepool

I would propose a contemporary author revises the books and Davey's authorship is removed, as that may be more respectful to the survivors of his abuse, and means that the valuable work is not lost.
Chandra, London

If you destroy or proscribe art simply because you do not like its creator, then you run the risk of comparison with Nazi Germany where books were burned simply because they were written by Jews. Many convicted criminals have produced great works. Great poets were persecuted for their homosexuality in times past. We should celebrate and cherish the creation of great art - whatever its source.
Ian B, Knutsford, Cheshire

Ian, you simply can not compare sexually abusing children to homosexuality and being Jewish. Homosexuality is not a crime and neither is being a Jew. Neither harms anyone or destroy lives and neither of these things are illegal. Sexually abusing children is illegal and does destroy lives. It is not a matter of simply disliking the creator. The creator and his works are inherently linked and while condoning one may not be directly condoning the other it is is incredibly dismissive of and insulting to abuse survivors to allow his work to be circulated, particularly in schools.
Scarlett, Scotland

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