There ought to be a monument to the man who invented neon lights. Fifteen stories high, solid marble. There’s a boy who really made something out of nothing.”


Raymond Chandler wrote the above paean to the inventor of neon lights in 1949 — and I’m sure he had no idea who had invented the gas-filled tubes that cast such a romantic glow over his hardboiled worldview.

Turns out, neon lights were invented by Georges Claude, a French engineer who was sent to prison in 1945 for collaborating with the enemy during WWII. I cite this factoid not to open up old wounds but to pose a question that still resonates: Can we, with a clear conscience, laud the work of people guilty of malfeasance in one form or another? (The recent accusation against a well known writer/director brings this to mind.)

While surfing the web for the names of famous artist malefactors, I came across an article that explores the subject. On June 21, 2012, the New York Times published Charles McGrath‘s “Good Art, Bad People” — an opinion piece that names names and includes a thoughtful examination of the topic.

McGrath writes: “In the case of the artist, badness or goodness is a moral quality or judgment; in the case of his art, goodness and badness are terms of aesthetic merit, to which morality does not apply.” Read this thought-provoking article in its entirety here.

I feel a whole lot better now about loving neon…

Photo: Rolf Süssbrich