This is reposted without permission from Neil Gaiman’s Journal, from an entry titled “in the wee small hours of the morning” (7 June 2006):
I’ve been a fan of your work for awhile now and I just came across your site. I’ve had this nagging question, about authors, stuck in my brain for awhile now and I thought you might have an answer or opinion.
If you really enjoy an author’s stories and then you find out the author (not you) is a jerk or believes in some fairly wretched things would you keep reading this author’s works?
I suppose it’s similar to the whole crazy celebrity dilema. Do I really want to go see a movie that looks good even though that guy is in it?
If I were only allowed to read or enjoy art or listen to music made by people whose opinions and beliefs were the same as mine, I think the world would be a pretty dismal sort of a place. I love the work of many creators who self-avowedly believe or believed things that I consider to be “fairly wretched”, not to mention wrong-headed, lunatic, irresponsible or simply wrong. Worse yet: there are artists, actors, songwriters, authors, whose work I love, like or admire and who, biographers or historians tell us, actually did things that were utterly reprehensible. And worse even than that, there are all those things by Anonymous, who could have been or thought or done, well, anything, and we’ll never know…
Ezra Pound was a fascist, an antisemite on a level that makes the Aryan Nation seem wishy washy, a traitor (or at best, a collaborator), and I’m very glad I got to read his poetry, and appreciate it and learn from it. I could list dozens more without breaking a sweat. Most, probably all, human beings get to do awful things and believe things that other human beings think they should be burned for believing, and they get to do and believe wonderful things too, and artists, writers, musicians, creators, actors, are nothing if not human beings.
The art isn’t the artist, the poem isn’t the poet; trust the tale, not the teller.
(The sad flip-side is I’ve met people — writers and artists — over the years who I liked immediately, with whom I found myself agreeing on everything to do with art and aesthetics so closely that we might have shared the same head, people whose world-views were pretty much mine, whom I’d talk with far into the night and whom I parted from excited that I’d met them, looking forward to nothing more than reading their writing or looking at their art… and then I would find what they had done, and, at least as far as my taste was concerned, the books would be uninteresting, the drawings ugly or clumsy. And in an odd way, that hurts more than liking the work of someone who behaved badly, or thought in a way that I consider offensive or wrong.)