A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR • NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A timely, passionate, provocative, blisteringly smart interrogation of how we make and experience art in the age of cancel culture, and of the link between genius and monstrosity. Can we love the work of controversial classic and contemporary artists but dislike the artist?
"A lively, personal exploration of how one might think about the art of those who do bad things" —Vanity Fair
“Monsters leaves us with Dederer’s passionate commitment to the artists whose work most matters to her, and a framework to address these questions about the artists who matter most to us." —The Washington Post
"[Dederer] breaks new ground, making a complex cultural conversation feel brand new." —Ada Calhoun, author of Also a Poet
From the author of the New York Times best seller Poser and the acclaimed memoir Love and Trouble, Monsters is “part memoir, part treatise, and all treat” (The New York Times). This unflinching, deeply personal book expands on Claire Dederer’s instantly viral Paris Review essay, "What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?"
Can we love the work of artists such as Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Miles Davis, Polanski, or Picasso? Should we? Dederer explores the audience's relationship with artists from Michael Jackson to Virginia Woolf, asking: How do we balance our undeniable sense of moral outrage with our equally undeniable love of the work? Is male monstrosity the same as female monstrosity? And if an artist is also a mother, does one identity inexorably, and fatally, interrupt the other? In a more troubling vein, she wonders if an artist needs to be a monster in order to create something great. Does genius deserve special dispensation? Does art have a mandate to depict the darker elements of the psyche? And what happens if the artist stares too long into the abyss?
Highly topical, morally wise, honest to the core, Monsters is certain to incite a conversation about whether and how we can separate artists from their art.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Michael Jackson. Woody Allen. Pablo Picasso. Some of the most celebrated artists of recent history are also very problematic, accused of heinous abuses. In this spectacular book, Claire Dederer—whose previous memoirs Poser and Love and Trouble showed us her fearless candor—puts herself under the microscope, grappling with the tension between “the greatness of the work and the terribleness of the crime.” A work of pop-culture criticism that’s fun to read, Monsters will for sure help us have deeper conversations around the perennial question of whether it’s possible and OK to separate the work from the artist and what it really means to be a fan. This is a book we plan to return to again and again—and to press on all our friends.
What's a fan to do when they love the art, but hate the artist? asks book critic and essayist Dederer (Love and Trouble) in this nuanced and incisive inquiry. She contends that "consuming a piece of art is two biographies meeting," those of the artist and the audience, and it's the plight of the latter that these meditations focus on. Dederer reflects on her attempts to reconcile her feminist principles with her admiration for the films of Roman Polanski, pokes holes in the excuses made for composer Richard Wagner's antisemitism, and suggests that such "geniuses" as Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway received a "special dispensation" from the public to act like monsters: "Maybe we have created the idea of genius to serve our own attraction to badness." Examining the role of the critic, she pushes back on a male writer who told her to judge Woody Allen's Manhattan solely on its aesthetic merits and posits that instead "criticism involves trusting our feelings" about both the art and the artists' crimes. There are no easy answers, but Dederer's candid appraisal of her own relationship with troubling artists and the lucidity with which she explores what it means to love their work open fresh ways of thinking about problematic artists. Contemplative and willing to tackle the hard questions head on, this pulls no punches.