The Ethics of Art

Erin Donnelly has just informed me that Art21 has just launched what appears to be a timely and exciting program dealing with ethics and law. The Flash Point program, The Ethics of Art, will explore the issue of ethics in art from a variety of perspectives.

Throughout this topic, we’ll feature artists who make this ethical debate a focus in their work, from artists who question the role of the institution, such as Hans Haacke or Marcel Broodthaers, to artists like Alfredo Jaar, who examines the disparity between an oil-rich government and a poverty-stricken populace in his work Muxima.

Ethical decisions also factor into the artistic process. Does a photographer who sells a portrait owe anything, financially or psychologically, to the work’s subject? What kind of ownership does an artist have over reproduced images of his or her work? We’ll also look at the discussions taking place around the use of animals in art[.] Ethical issues can even come into play after an artist’s death, especially in the handling the artist’s estate and the management of his or her legacy.

Controversies and arguments abound as ethical decisions, or the lack thereof, play a role in institutional practice. With the ever-shrinking gap between commerce and culture, the prioritization of good business over public service creates an increasingly blurry set of ethical guidelines. Collector-based exhibitions, conflicts of interest, deaccessioning practices…do museums have a responsibility to their public? And if so, is this a part of institutional culture and is it being taught in today’s museum studies programs?

Here are some topics they’ll cover:

  • How do ethics factor into institutional practice?
  • How do artists address ethical issues in their work?
  • What kind of ethical decisions are made during the artistic process?
  • Are ethics emphasized in art education today?
  • Must art be ethical?
  • Another relevant subtopic would analyze the distinction between ethics and law, or the “should” and the “can,” and perhaps what the artist’s role is in defining and blurring these two discourses.

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