Are we capable of recognising that human beings have the capacity to create and to destroy, to add beauty and ugliness to the world, to enhance and to impoverish the lives of others?
Are we capable of saying that in abusing his position in order to abuse young women, Rolf Harris has destroyed, has made the world more ugly, has impoverished the lives of others – and that for this he must be held to account and face consequences of his actions – but that as a gifted artist this same Rolf Harris has created, has added beauty to the world, has enhanced the lives of others – and that this, too, must be recognised?
Or must we remove, even destroy, certainly devalue (by 90%), his paintings? His life?
If we cannot name both sides of the paradox that is Rolf Harris, then we cannot speak the paradox that is ourselves. That which is destructive, ugly, impoverishing remains in the dark, where it can flourish, so long as it doesn’t step into the light, exposing itself. And that which is creative, beautiful, enhancing is redefined as fake, a front to mask something, simply waiting to be exposed.
If we cannot own both sides of the paradox, affirming the one and confronting the other, then the fallen are damned, their family is damned – condemned to erase a life from their lives, erasing much of themselves in so doing, or to refuse and to be erased by others. All those wronged – both the particular abused and the general betrayed – are damned, their own defaced beauty erased because beauty cannot be trusted, and (the irony!) must be sacrificed in order to starve destruction. Ultimately, we are all damned, because we are all that same paradox.
Beauty in all forms – painting, sculpture, music, fashion, architecture, in every form – is only created by an artist who also destroys. This is as true of the natural world as it is of human artefacts. The darkness does not extinguish the light. We do not need to create a towering bonfire of ‘Works to be expunged from the record.’
We rile against a paradox, hoping to resolve it, when in fact we need it. This particular paradox ought to keep us from idolising heroes. But it ought to keep us from tearing them, and ourselves, apart too.