John Galliano's art is greater than the man behind itBrian Sewell
4 Mar 2011
I don't like drunks - loud, boorish, unpredictable. Still less do I care for alcoholics of whom, among my friends, there have been three, all eroding friendship with their cheating, blatant lies and wheedling excuses, until affection has withered into hapless responsibility to which there seems no end. I have seen enough of both the drunkard and the addict to know that the loosened tongue of abuse does not speak the truth - Pliny, two thousand years ago, was wrong with his "in vino veritas".
The alcoholic, in loathing himself, expresses it by turning it on others, even the very friends who care for him. It does not matter that the object of the frustrated rage within is not Jewish, Chinese or Liverpudlian, he seizes on the dark distinctions of perceived difference, labels them and employs them for abuse - and if we thought these ancient prejudices were bred out of us, we should consider how easily our unguarded first response is of denial. "I am not a Jew," we plead, "I am not Chinese, I am not from Liverpool."
They prompt only one question, and that is for his employers, Dior, and his friends. Where were you with your concern and friendship when the first of these irrational outpourings occurred?
Did none of you notice that he had reached a stage at which he urgently needed help before the first of these self-destructive episodes? Did you not see how much alcohol, how many drugs, he was consuming? Were you blind to all the signs? Was it not obvious that you should see him to the door of the Parisian equivalent of The Priory?
Galliano's abuse - the dirty Jew, the gas chamber, the "I love Hitler" stuff - was abhorrent, and I perfectly understand the Jewish response to it, so raw is the memory of the Holocaust, but the hypocritical Pilatism of Dior, the handwashing for sacking him for anti-Semitism, is repugnant.
This man was their employee and their duty of care obliged them to protect him from himself. Instead, they let disaster happen and then, realising that they might lose every one of their Jewish clients, dismissed him, and in so doing, utterly failed to save face but quite certainly destroyed him.
Galliano will never, as Galliano, design again. If designing women's clothes is an art, then Dior has destroyed an artist.
Should we refuse to perform Wagner's operas because he is perceived to have been anti-Semitic? - even in Israel now, it is at last possible to play some of his less triumphal music. Should all Emil Nolde's great paintings be hidden in cupboards because he was for some years Hitler's supporter? Should Wyndham Lewis for ever be unmentionable and invisible because he too, at one stage, thought highly of Hitler's politics?
No, art that is not in itself political - and Galliano's is not - is greater than the man who creates it, and society does a cruel mischief when, in dispatching him as a scapegoat into the wilderness, it ends his life and influence as a creator.