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Claire Dederer ‘Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma’ Interview



claire dederer


What should we do when we love the art, but hate the artist? In the age of the #MeToo movement, it’s the question that lurks around every corner. How do we solve a problem like Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, or Pablo Picasso?

In Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma, critic and memoirist Claire Dederer delivers an unflinching meditation on some of the thorniest questions of our time. Can we ethically consume the art of monstrous artists? Do we hold monstrous women to different standards than monstrous men? In the age of parasocial relationships, how much does fandom define us, and what’s a fan to do when our favorite artist betrays us? Dederer contends that these contradictions are baked into the endeavor of making and loving art. “Consuming a piece of art is two biographies meeting: the biography of the artist, which might disrupt the consuming of the art; and the biography of the audience member, which might shape the viewing of the art,” she writes.


But if you’re looking for cut-and-dry answers, you won’t find them here. Dederer cautions readers against “the impulse to farm out the problem, to seek an authority.” Generous and redemptive, she encourages readers to live in the contradictions. “You are a hypocrite, over and over,” she writes. “You love Annie Hall but you can barely stand to look at a painting by Picasso. You are not responsible for solving this unreconciled contradiction. In fact, you will solve nothing by means of your consumption; the idea that you can is a dead end.” This capitalist critique is crucial to the author’s argument; as she tells Esquire, “We can’t expect our roles to become empowered through capitalism.”

Dederer Zoomed with Esquire from her houseboat on Lake Union, Washington. Recently divorced, she lives down the dock from her two children, who live on another houseboat. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

ESQUIRE: You write, “We live in the time of the fan.” That’s certainly true—fans have been massively catered to and fandom has been massively commodified. When you were writing this book, did you ever go down the rabbit hole of fandom?

CLAIRE DEDERER: I’m fascinated by the nuances of these massive fandoms. My kids are in their early 20s now; they went through their teens within this era, so I’ve spent time in those spaces. Many years ago, I went to LeakyCon, the Harry Potter convention, which is actually this crucible of sweetness. You go into this massive corporate convention hall and it’s just filled with 12-year-olds in capes losing their minds with joy. That’s the framework in which we come to a problem like J.K. Rowling: these kids who’ve collapsed so totally with a world that they’ve entered. You see it with adults, as well—the fervor that people bring to these spaces where they’re sharing their fandom. Once you’re inside them, the discourse feels all-consuming and important. To what degree is it important? What’s happening in identity formation? What’s happening in your own sense of self that’s of value, in those spaces? Often, there’s a lot going on that’s really positive. But there’s this essential participation in this economic structure that remains invisible.

You ask early in the book: “Do we vote with our wallets? If so, is it okay to, say, stream a Roman Polanski movie for free?” For many of us, that’s a familiar lens on this debate. We tell ourselves, “If I’m not enriching him by streaming this movie, it’s fine.” But later in the book, you arrive at a capitalist critique of the problem, saying that the ethical dilemma of art is in the way we inevitably approach it as consumers. This realization that capitalism has passed the problem of monstrous men onto the individual seems like a real breakthrough. What would it look to move the focus of this conversation onto the perpetrator and the systems that enable him?

Say we have somebody who makes an accusation. Or, let’s put it a different way: someone says what has happened to them. This is a very important thing for someone to be able to say, and that’s the #MeToo reckoning we’ve all been making our way through. Once that happens, what next? What occurs in this space that has opened up? There’s a way in which the intense focus on this question is a bypass. It immediately leaps us over what to do with this information—how to ask a larger institutional structure to deal with this and how to look at the problems that gave rise to it, which have to do not just with sexism and a culture of sexual violence, but racism, classism, etc. All of these things get jumped over, and immediately the question is: “Are you just going to throw out the work of this person?”



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It’s important to stop and look at what’s just happened there. An individual—maybe a lot of individuals!—said that something is wrong. Clearly this is a systemic problem, but we immediately jump to an individual solution. In the structure of late capitalism, there’s this liberal ideal of an individual solution that we come to over and over. That ideal already failed before it began. You have these massive entities of government, law, and corporate culture making decisions that affect us all, yet we’re asked to solve this on an individual basis. That’s just a ruse. Capitalism asks us to be consumers—that’s our role. When we’re told we have ethical power in our consumption choices, all we’re doing is being forced back into our role as consumers, in order to limit our power. Our power has to do with collectively pushing for change in institutions.

There are two things going on here: on the one hand, there’s this institutional reckoning brought up by #MeToo. What are the ways in which business, government, and industry can be changed in order to protect people? This is a failure that’s ongoing, all the time. There are constantly failures to protect people’s rights. This is the first piece that #MeToo asks us to think about, which gets bypassed, but then there’s this larger problem, which is a larger structural issue. We can’t expect our roles to become empowered through capitalism. There’s a larger request that we can make of ourselves, to push past the concept of ourselves as consumers. It’s impossible and yet necessary to do that. Once we do that, we can start asking more interesting questions about what we can do. If I stop thinking of myself as a consumer, what actions can I take? How can I change as a participant in politics, in culture, in my work?

You point out in the book that capitalism is the air we breathe. Who am I if not a consumer? What does a life with less consumption look like? It’s a great question, but I can’t begin to imagine approaching it.

There’s such a radicalism in just asking it. The book cites Mark Fisher’s book, Capitalist Realism, which is a good entry point. He brings up this idea of the atmosphere of capital—this atmosphere that we breathe. Trying to point at it is enough to make you crazy, and yet, it’s also such a necessary conversation.

When we think about systems and institutions, that brings us to museums. “The canon” can be as expansive as we want it to be, but museums are a finite space. The question of who to include and who not to include presses differently on us there. How do you think about this question of monsters when we’re making choices about who literally gets to take up space?

The museum makes a nice arena for conversations about what institutions should do. Clearly this conversation about monstrous men needs to push us toward opening institutions to silenced voices. I speak as someone who supports people in reckoning with this in their own way, and continuing to love the work of these people. Even so, the institutional reckoning we can come to is about noticing and pushing for more presence of underrepresented voices within the cultural institution. I see museums addressing the crimes of the people who’ve made the works shown in the museum, like the placards talking about what Picasso has been accused of.

But more and more, I’m seeing museums self-indict—I see them talk about where their holdings come from, and place their holdings in a cultural context. Where I live in the Pacific Northwest, we’re going through this with the Seattle Art Museum. A lot of northwest work, which once stood in a monumental way, has now been positioned as ancillary to or in conjunction with the work of Northwest Coast Native peoples. The work has been contextualized not just in how it belongs in the museum, but how the museum got it. I want to see more of not just inclusion of these pushed-out voices, but conversation on the walls of the museum, adjacent to the work, that allows the viewer into that conversation.

This feels like an extension of the conversation we’re having in literature about prefaces to books by Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming.

Last week, I was talking to a radio interviewer about the same age as me. There’s a passage in the book where I talk about taking my young children to see an exhibit about Picasso and the women he painted. We walked through the galleries, and these placards told us information about Picasso’s relationship with these women. Although “relationship” is such an anodyne way to put it—really, he Hoovered these women up and destroyed them. My kids thought it was such a drag. Being exposed to this person and what he’d done, they were exhausted and annoyed by the whole experience. When I spoke with this radio interviewer about it, he said, “Wouldn’t it be great if your kids could come to this work, absent that dialogue?” To me, that’s not the answer—to somehow protect some perceived, pure experience of the work. People are very smart, and we’re very complicated. We can take on this contradictory information and still look at the work. We’re not so simple that we can’t do both of those things at once. It’s also possible that my kids just didn’t like Picasso. They’re allowed to have that response. I don’t think it’s worth it to protect some fragile ideal of a viewer / artist relationship, and let go of that conversation.


I don’t think it’s worth it to protect some fragile ideal of a viewer / artist relationship.


That feels like setting people up to be hurt later. You can find out the full truth now or later—and if it’s later, you’ve developed an attachment, so the betrayal hurts.

Exactly. In the moment of biography, there’s a way in which saying “let’s not foreground the biography within the institutional space” offloads the problem for later. You’re also not finding a way to use the biography in a helpful way, or in a way that furthers the conversation you and I are having, which is a way of connecting the victims to an outcome institutionally.

What do you think of the similar school of thought in literature, where some critics argue that it’s best to read a book with no knowledge of the author’s biography?

I’m not an academic, and 19th or 20th century American literature isn’t my field of expertise. But there are ways in which that perspective has a material genesis. That idea of never bringing in the historical context is something that was celebrated by certain New Critics from the mid-20th century who were teaching in the American university system, and therefore didn’t have the access to historical records that English scholars who had been working for centuries in England did. There was a lack of access to secondary sources. When a body of scholarship isn’t available to you, you say, “The scholarship isn’t important.” You take your limitation and raise it into a virtue. You make it a necessity. I find it delightful.

When we bring our emotionality to a piece of work, we’re often told it’s because of our own biographical or historical circumstances. “You’re angry about this because you’re a woman, and women are angry because historically they’ve been oppressed. You’re being historically determined in your resistance to Woody Allen’s Manhattan.” But I love that idea about the New Critics and their limitations, because there are so many ways in which dominant white male scholarship or criticism is also historically determined—but it’s invisible. Finding ways to disrupt this authoritative, “objective” viewpoint is of great interest.

And how can we check ourselves at the door? I can’t just not see a work as a woman.

You wanting me to do that doesn’t achieve it. Secondly, you have no concept of how you’re not checking yourself at the door. The quote that I think of, in all my writing, is Randall Keenan, who said: “What feeling do you have that’s not tied up with history?” I think about this all the time. The “you” is not specific to women, or Black people, or queer people—the “you” is everyone. That, to me, is also part of a larger institutional reckoning. We have to demand that people who perceive themselves as having a central and objective perspective start to understand the historicity and non-centrality of their point of view.



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In the final chapter, you pose the question, “What is it to love someone awful?” That’s the gut-wrenching question beneath all of this—an elemental question that we all wrestle with in our personal lives, every day. If more people could couch this debate in that question, would that change the discourse we’re having?

I do think it would. That insight—that this conversation about monsters gives rise to questions about one’s own relationships—really changed my own perspective on the problem. It’s uncomfortable, right? We want to come to this problem with the rigor of intellectualism, but a lot of our response is grounded in feeling. Talking about how the problem of the monster artist relates to the problem of difficult people in our lives, and also ways that we’ve been difficult, is uncomfortable because it takes us toward that emotional place, and makes us realize that we can’t control what’s happening through the force of our own thought. For some of us, that’s a very uncomfortable place to reside—the place where thought doesn’t hold quite so much purchase.

Especially for people who love movies, music, literature, and art. These people will be infuriated by not being able to think their way out of a problem.

In some ways, there’s a sort of tantrum-y quality to the book, because I so desperately wanted to think my way out of the problem. I deliver the reader at the end to a place of more pure feeling, almost kicking and screaming the whole way, as I keep trying to solve the problem through thought.

How did writing this book change you? Do you come to viewing art or writing criticism differently now?

When I started out as a critic, I wrote from a place of subjectivity. I was covering my ass for my own lack of authority, because I was a very young woman. I thought, “If I use this really subjective voice, I’m diffusing the problem. I’m admitting my own subjectivity right up front.” There was a complicated emotional thing that happened there. Writing the book has really brought me toward a more rigorous and well thought-out perspective on my subjectivity, and a validation of my choice to write as a critic from this deeply subjective place. I actually think that’s the criticism I love. It’s a really important criticism for us to be writing, and for all kinds of us to be writing, and to be knowing that’s what we’re doing—rather than writing from our own ex-biographical experience and calling it objectivity. That’s the most important thing: this deepening understanding of myself as a subject, rather than as an authority.

Headshot of Adrienne Westenfeld

Books and Fiction Editor

Adrienne Westenfeld is the Books and Fiction Editor at Esquire, where she oversees books coverage, edits fiction, and curates the Esquire Book Club.

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Marvel's Spider-Man 2 Out For PS5 In October, Teases New Art – Kotaku



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Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 Out For PS5 In October, Teases New Art  Kotaku


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3 Montreal artists headed to Italy for international art exhibition – CityNews Montreal



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3 Montreal artists headed to Italy for international art exhibition  CityNews Montreal


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Françoise Gilot, Whose Art Transcended Her Relationship With Picasso, Dies at 101 – Smithsonian Magazine



Gilot in studio

Françoise Gilot in her art studio circa 1982 in La Jolla, California
PL Gould / Images Press / Getty Images

Françoise Gilot, a lauded French artist who wrote candidly about her volatile relationship with Pablo Picasso, died this week at age 101. 

“She was an extremely talented artist, and we will be working on her legacy and the incredible paintings and works she is leaving us with,” says her daughter, Aurelia Engel, to Jocelyn Noveck of the Associated Press (AP).

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, as well as the Centre Pompidou in Paris, are some of the museums that have displayed Gilot’s art. While Picasso may have influenced her work, her artistic career began before the two met, and the unique style she created was hers alone. 



A self-portrait painted by Gilot on view at a Christie’s exhibition in 2021

Dtaichwom Simlooa via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0

Born in a suburb of Paris in 1921, Gilot developed an interest in painting as a child. Her mother—who had studied art history, ceramics and watercolor painting—was her first tutor, per the New York Times’ Alan Riding. Later, she took lessons with the Hungarian-French painter Endre Rozsda. Rozsda was Jewish, and he fled Paris in 1943.

The Guardian’s Charles Darwent recounts a prophetic final exchange between the student and her teacher:

“As his train steamed out of the station, the 21-year-old Gilot wailed: ‘But what am I to do?’ Her teacher, laughing, shouted: ‘Don’t worry! Who knows? Three months from now, you may meet Picasso!’” 

Gilot met Picasso when she was 21; Picasso was 61 and already a famous, established artist. Their relationship began in 1944. Gilot later recalled good memories from this early period, and Picasso’s art from this time affirms this. 

But Picasso, a notorious adulterer known for his abusive behavior toward women, quickly began mistreating her. Physical violence and blatant extramarital affairs were common during their relationship, even as the couple had two children together.

When Gilot finally left him in 1953, Picasso was shocked. He reportedly told her that she would be nothing without him; she was unmoved. Gilot recounted the harrowing relationship and its end in Life With Picasso, the memoir she published in 1964.

In it, she recalled Picasso claiming that “no woman leaves a man like me.” Her response: “I told him maybe that was the way it looked to him, but I was one woman who would, and was about to.”

The memoir angered the artist so much that he cut off contact with her and their children. He tried several times—always unsuccessfully—to prevent the memoir’s publication in France. 

Gilot recounted the relationship with unrelenting honesty, remembering his “extraordinary gentleness” in her memoir while commenting frankly on his abuse. Picasso introduced her to Georges Braque, Marc Chagall and Gertrude Stein, but he disparaged her value as an artist and told her that nobody would care about her when she was no longer connected to him.

Yet Gilot’s legacy reaches far beyond Picasso, and in recent years, her work has garnered much more recognition. A 1965 portrait of her daughter sold for $1.3 million at auction in 2021, per the AP.

Picasso and Gilot

Gilot and Picasso celebrate his 70th birthday on October 31, 1951.

Bettmann / Getty Images

“To see Françoise as a muse (to Picasso) is to miss the point,” says Simon Shaw, Sotheby’s vice chairman for global fine art, to the AP. “While her work naturally entered into dialogue with his, Françoise pursued a course fiercely her own—her art, like her character, was filled with color, energy and joy.”

During her life, Gilot emphasized that she never felt trapped or controlled by Picasso. In fact, in a 2022 interview for her 100th birthday with Ruth La Ferla of the Times, Gilot said that her fierce independence informed the art she created.

“As young women, we were taught to keep silent,” she said. “We were taught early that taking second place is easier than first. You tell yourself that’s all right, but it’s not all right. It is important that we learn to express ourselves, to say what it is that we like, that we want.”

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