Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-pftt2 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-25T15:07:54.394Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Dealbreakers and the Work of Immoral Artists

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 April 2023



A dealbreaker, in the sense developed in this essay, is a relationship between a person's psychology and an aspect of an artwork to which they are exposed. When a person has a dealbreaking aversion to an aspect of a work, they are blocked from embracing the work's aesthetically positive features. I characterize dealbreakers, distinguish this response from other negative responses to an artwork, and argue that the presence or absence of a dealbreaker is in some cases an appropriate target of moral evaluation. I then use the concept of dealbreakers to develop a new approach to the question of our moral obligations with respect to the work of immoral artists, arguing that there is no general obligation binding us to cultivate or eliminate a dealbreaking aversion to their work. I conclude by suggesting several other philosophical debates that could benefit from a focus on dealbreakers.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Philosophical Association

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Two anonymous reviewers wrote thoughtful comments that helped me improve this essay. I am also, as usual, diversely indebted to Jason Swartwood.


Anderson, James C., and Dean, Jeffrey T.. (1998) ‘Moderate Autonomism’. British Journal of Aesthetics, 38, 150–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Archer, Alfred, and Matheson, Benjamin. (2019) ‘When Artists Fall: Honoring and Admiring the Immoral’. Journal of the American Philosophical Association, 5, 246–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bartel, Christopher. (2019) ‘Ordinary Monsters: Ethical Criticism and the Lives of Artists’. Contemporary Aesthetics 17, article 18. Scholar
Bastian, Brock. (2017) ‘A Social Dimension to Enjoyment of Negative Emotion in Art Reception’. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 40, e352. ScholarPubMed
Carroll, Noël. (1996) ‘Moderate Moralism’. British Journal of Aesthetics, 36, 223–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dadlez, E. M. (2005) ‘Spectacularly Bad: Hume and Aristotle on Tragic Spectacle’. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 63, 351–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dederer, Claire. (2017) ‘What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?’ Paris Review (blog). November 20, 2017. Scholar
Eaton, A. W. (2012) ‘Robust Immoralism’. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 70, 281–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Egloff, Boris. (2017) ‘You Are Not Alone—Social Sharing as a Necessary Addition to the Embracing Factor’. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 40, e358. Scholar
Elicker, Bradley. (2021) ‘Why We Should Avoid Artists Who Cause Harm: Support as Enabling Harm’. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 38, 306–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Emerick, Barrett. (2016) ‘Love and Resistance: Moral Solidarity in the Face of Perceptual Failure’. Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, 2, article 1. Scholar
Gaut, Berys. (2007) Art, Emotion and Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Geimer, Samantha. (2003) ‘Judge the Movie, Not the Man’. Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2003. Scholar
Gendler, Tamar Szabó, and Liao, Shen-yi. (2016) ‘The Problem of Imaginative Resistance’. In Gibson, John and Carroll, Noël (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Literature (New York: Routledge), 405–18.Google Scholar
Goodman, Amy, dir. (2018) ‘Bill Cosby Survivor Lili Bernard: Women Who Report Sexual Assault Are Often “Re-raped” in Court’. Democracy Now, September 27, 2018. Scholar
Gross, Terry, and Nussbaum, Emily. (2019) ‘We All Watch in Our Own Way: A Critic Tracks the “TV Revolution”’. NPR, July 15, 2019. Scholar
Hoskinson, Jim, dir. (2017) ‘Jerry Seinfeld Talks Bill Cosby, Whether He Can Separate the Man from the Body of Art’. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, CBS, September 30, 2017. Scholar
Hume, David. (1987) ‘Of the Standard of Taste’. In Miller, Eugene (ed.), Essays Moral, Political, and Literary (Indianapolis: Liberty Classics), 226–49.Google Scholar
Kohn, Eric. (2018) ‘Roman Polanski Rape Victim Samantha Geimer on Tarantino, Polanski, and Why Apologies Matter [EXCLUSIVE]’. IndieWire (blog). February 9, 2018. Scholar
Korsmeyer, Carolyn. (2012) ‘Ethical Gourmandism’. In Korsmeyer, David (ed.), The Philosophy of Food (Berkeley: University of California Press), 87102.Google Scholar
Kosuga, Tomokazu. (2009) ‘Flowers of Flesh and Blood’. Vice Blog (blog). September 30, 2009. Scholar
Liao, Shen-yi. (forthcoming) ‘The Art of Immoral Artists’. In Fox, Carl and Saunders, Joe (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy and Media Ethics (Routledge).Google Scholar
Malone, Noreen. (2015) ‘“I'm No Longer Afraid”: 35 Women Tell Their Stories about Being Assaulted by Bill Cosby, and the Culture That Wouldn't Listen.’ New York Magazine, July 26, 2015. Scholar
Matthes, Erich Hatala. (2022) Drawing the Line: What to Do with the Work of Immoral Artists from Museums to the Movies. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Matthes, Erich Hatala. (forthcoming) ‘Immoral Artists’. In Harold, James (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Ethics and Art (Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
Menninghaus, Winfried, Wagner, Valentin, Hanich, Julian, Wassiliwizky, Eugen, Jacobsen, Thomas, and Koelsch, Stefan. (2017) ‘The Distancing-Embracing Model of the Enjoyment of Negative Emotions in Art Reception’. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 40, e347. ScholarPubMed
Powers, Ann. (2019) ‘Before and After: What It's Like Listening to Michael Jackson Now’. NPR, May 11, 2019, 7:00 a.m. Scholar
Saito, Yuriko. (1998) ‘The Aesthetics of Unscenic Nature’. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 56, 101–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sandhu, Sukhdev. (2011) ‘Morrissey and Me: How an Ordinary Asian Fell in Love with the Smiths’. The Guardian, December 20, 2011. Scholar
Schwarz, Lucia. (2022) ‘The Paradox of Rape in Horror Movies’. British Journal of Aesthetics, 62, 671–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stine, Scott Aaron. (1999) ‘The Snuff Film: The Making of an Urban Legend’. Skeptical Inquirer, 23. 2933. Scholar
Stoner, Ian. (2017) ‘The Sort of Thing Everyone Knows’. Eclectica Magazine, February 2017. Scholar
Stoner, Ian. (2020) ‘Barbarous Spectacle and General Massacre: A Defence of Gory Fictions’. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 37, 511–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Strohl, Matthew. (2019) ‘Art and Painful Emotion’. Philosophy Compass, 14, e12558. Scholar
Udovitch, Mim. (2000) ‘The Pressure To Take It Off’. New York Times Magazine, June 25, 2000. Scholar
Vasagar, Jeevan. (2007) ‘Why This British Asian Doesn't Listen to Morrissey Any More’. The Guardian, November 29, 2007. Scholar
Wheaton, Wil. (2021) ‘Sweet and Tender Hooligan’. WIL WHEATON dot NET (blog). October 16, 2021. Scholar
Willard, Mary Beth. (2021) Why It's OK to Enjoy the Work of Immoral Artists. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wills, Bernard, and Holt, Jason. (2017) ‘Art by Jerks’. Contemporary Aesthetics 15, article 7. Scholar