ART 1101 Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College Idolatry and Carved Images Discussion Having completed this unit’s readings, formulate a response to one of t

ART 1101 Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College Idolatry and Carved Images Discussion Having completed this unit’s readings, formulate a response to one of the following questions:1. Discuss the Second Commandment and explain why some religions forbid images and others favor them? Be sure to provide specific examples. Your initial post for this discussion should be 150-250 words in length and completely answer the question. 11
Art and Ethics
Peggy Blood and Pamela J. Sachant
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
• Understand why art and ethics are associated
• Identify works of art that were censored due to their failure to meet societal ethics
• Indicate why ethical values change over time by society
• Articulate why some societal groups may consider some works of art controversial
• Identify ethical considerations in the artist’s use of others’ art work in their own, the
materials used in making art, manipulation of an image to alter its meaning or intent,
and the artist’s moral obligations as an observer
• Identify roles that museums play in the preservation, interpretation, and display of
culturally significant objects
This chapter is concerned with the perception, susceptibility, and ethics of art. It will explore
and analyze the moral responsibility of artists and their rights to represent and create without
Morality and art are connected usually in art that provokes and disturbs. Such art stirs up the
artist’s or viewer’s personal beliefs, values, and morals due to what is depicted. Works that seem
to purposely pursue or strongly communicate a message may cause controversies to flair up: controversies over the rights of artistic freedom or over how society evaluates art. That judgment of
works created by artists has to do with society’s value judgment in a given time in history.
The relationship between the artist and society is intertwined and sometimes at odds as it
relates to art and ethics. Neither has to be sacrificed for the other, however, and neither needs to
bend to the other in order to create or convey the work’s message.
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Art is subjective: it will be received or interpreted by different people in various ways. What may
be unethical to one may be ethical to another. Because art is subjective, it is vulnerable to ethical
judgment. It is most vulnerable when society does not have a historical context or understanding
of art in order to appreciate a work’s content or aesthetics. This lack does not make ethical judgment wrong or irrational; it shows that appreciation of art or styles changes over time and that
new or different art or styles can come to be appreciated. The general negative taste of society
usually changes with more exposure. Still, taste remains subjective.
Ethics has been a major consideration of the public and those in religious or political power
throughout history. For many artists today, the first and major consideration is not ethics, but the
platform from which to create and deliver the message through formal qualities and the medium.
Consideration of ethics may be established by the artist but without hindrance of free expression.
It is expected that in a work of art an artist’s own beliefs, values, and ideology may contrast with
societal values. It is the art that speaks and adds quality value to what is communicated. This is
what makes the power of free artistic expression so important. The art is judged not by who created the work or the artist’s character, but based on the merits of the work itself.
However, through this visual dialogue existing between artist and society, there must be some
mutual understanding. Society needs to understand that freedom of expression in the arts encourages greatness while artists need to be mindful of and open to society’s disposition. When the
public values art as being a positive spiritual and physical addition to society, and the artist creates
with ethical intentions, there is a connection between viewer and creator. An artist’s depiction of
a subject does not mean that the creator approves or disapproves of the subject being presented.
The artist’s purpose is to express, regardless of how the subject matter may be interpreted. Nevertheless, this freedom in interpretation does not mean that neither the artist nor society holds
responsibility for their actions.
Art and ethics, in this respect, demands that artists use their intellectual faculties to create
a true expressive representation or convey psychological meaning. This type of art demands a
capability on the viewer’s part to be moved by many sentiments from the artist. It demands the
power of art to penetrate outward appearances, and seize and capture hidden thoughts and interpretations of the momentary or permanent emotions of a situation. While artists are creating,
capturing visual images, and interpreting for their viewers, they are also giving them an unerring
measure of the artists’ own moral or ethical sensibilities.
Ethical dilemmas are not uncommon in the art world and often arise from the perception or
interpretation of the artwork’s content or message. Provocative themes of spirituality, sexuality,
and politics can and may be interpreted in many ways and provoke debates as to their being
unethical or without morality. For example, when Dada artist Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968,
France) created Fountain in 1917, it was censored and rejected by contemporary connoisseurs of
the arts and the public. (Fountain, Marcel Duchamp:
artwork/25853#ixzz3mwCWDOxZ) A men’s urinal turned on its side, Duchamp considered this work
to be one of his Readymade, manufactured objects that were turned into or designated by him as
art. Today, Fountain is one of Duchamp’s most famous works and is widely considered an icon of
twentieth-century art.
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More recently, The Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili (b. 1968, England) shocked viewers when
it was included in the 1997-2000 Sensation exhibition in London, Berlin, and New York. (The Holy
Virgin Mary, Chris Ofili:
identity-body-europe/a/chris-ofili-the-holy-virgin-mary) The image caused considerable outrage
from some members of the public across the country, including then-mayor of New York City
Rudolph Giuliani. With its collaged images of women’s buttocks, glitter-mixed paint, and applied
balls of elephant dung, many considered the painting blasphemous. Ofili stated that was not his
intention; he wanted to acknowledge both the sacred and secular, even sensual, beauty of the Virgin
Mary, and that the dung, in his parents’ native country of Nigeria, symbolized fertility and the power
of the elephant. Nevertheless, and probably unaware of the artist’s meaning, people were outraged.
Traditionally, aesthetics in art has been associated with beauty, enjoyment, and the viewer’s
visual, intellectual, and emotional captivation. Scandalous art may not be beautiful, but it very
well could be enjoyable and hold one captive. The viewer is taken in and is attracted to something
that is neither routine nor ordinary. All are considered to be meaningful experiences that are
distinctive to Fine Arts. Aesthetic judgment goes hand in hand with ethics. It is part of the decision-making process people use when they view a work of art and decide if it is “good” or “bad.”
The process of aesthetic judgment is a conceptual model that describes how people decide on the
quality of artworks created and, for them individually or societally, makes an ethical decision
about a certain work of art.
As we can see, art indubitably has had the power to shock and, as a source of social provocation, art will continue to shock unsuspecting viewers. Audiences will continue to feel scandalized,
disturbed, or offended by art that is socially, politically, and religiously challenging. Being considered scandalous or radical, as already observed, does not take away from experiencing or appreciation of the art, nor do such responses speak to the artist’s ethics or morality. Art may, however,
fail in some eyes to offer an aesthetic experience. Such a failure also depends on the complex
relationship between art and the viewer, living in a given moment of time.
11.3.1 Appropriation
Artists have always been inspired by the work of other artists; they have borrowed compositional devices, adopted stylistic elements, and taken up narrative details. In such cases, the artist
incorporates these aspects of another’s work into their own distinct creative endeavor. Appropriation, on the other hand, means taking existing objects or images and, with little or no change
to them, using them in or as one’s own artwork. Throughout the twentieth century and to the
present day, appropriation of an object or image has come to be considered a legitimate role for
art and artists to play. In the new context, the object or image is re-contextualized. This allows the
artist to comment on the work’s original meaning and bring new meaning to it. The viewer, recognizing the original work, layers additional meanings and associations. Thus, the work becomes
different, in large part based on the artist’s intent.
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Sherrie Levine (b. 1947, USA) has spent her career prompting viewers to ask questions about
what changes take place when she reproduces or makes slight alterations to a well-known work of
art. For example, in 1981 Levine photographed images created by Walker Evans (1903-1975, USA)
that had been reproduced in an exhibition catalogue. (After Walker Evans: 4, Sherrie Levine: She titled her
series After Walker Evans, freely acknowledging Evans as the creator of the “original” photographic
works. And, she openly stated, the catalogue—containing reproductions of Evans’s photographs—
was the source for her own “reproductions.” Levine created her photographs by photographing
the reproduced photographs in the exhibition catalogue; the photographs in the catalogue were
reproductions of the photographs in the exhibition.
Visitors to the exhibition who were familiar with Evans’s depictions of Alabama sharecropper
families struggling to make a living during the Great Depression were being challenged to view
Levine’s photographs, such as this one of Allie Mae Burroughs titled After Walker Evans: 4, independent of their historical, intellectual, and emotional significance. Without those connections,
what story did the photograph tell? Did the photograph itself having meaning, or is its message
the sum of what meanings the viewer ascribes to it? Levine’s work in the 1980s was part of the
postmodern art movement that questioned cultural meaning over individual significance: was
it possible to consider art in such broad categories any longer, or is there such a thing as one,
agreed-upon, universal meaning? She was also questioning notions of “originality,” “creativity,”
and “reproduction.” What product can truly be attributed to one individual’s thought processes
and efforts, with no contribution from a collective of influences? If none exists, then we cannot
state something is an original work of art, springing from a single source of creativity, after which
all subsequent works are reproductions. One is not more authentic or valuable than the other.
In 1993, Levine was invited by the Philadelphia Museum of Art to be the first artist to participate
in Museum Studies, a series of contemporary projects: “new works and installations created by
artists specifically for the museum.” Levine created six translucent white glass “reproductions” of a
1915 marble sculpture by Constantine Brancusi (1876-1957, Romania), titled Newborn I. (Crystal
Newborn, Sherrie Levine:
jpg/thenewborn1334629599199-14C4CC989054F51F15F.jpg) She titled her 1993 work Crystal
Newborn; it is shown here along with Black Newborn of 1994. (Crystal Newborn and Black
Newborn, Sherrie Levine:
newborn_1993_black_newborn_1994.jpg) Both works are cast glass, which in the case of Black
Newborn, has been sandblasted. (Black Newborn, Sherrie Levine:
Similar to her 1981 photograph After Walker Evans: 4, these works are meant to examine
notions about something being an original or, instead, being a reproduction. Just as her earlier
photographic reproductions of Evans’s work themselves could be reproduced, so also were these
glass works part of a series; Levine cast a total of twelve versions from one (original?) mold. In
addition, although sculpture such as Brancusi’s Newborn I, is generally displayed on a pedestal or
stand that elevates the work to a comfortable viewing height and separates it from its surroundings, Levine had her work displayed on a grand piano. Doing so changed the setting from a more
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conventional, expected, but consciously neutral mode of display, the pedestal, to the more nuanced, domesticated, yet sophisticated tone of a polished piano top. She wanted the difference to
register in the viewer’s mind and influence the viewer’s response to the work, including thinking
of the contrast: the typical museum display is masculine, that is, part of the male world of wealthy
collectors and museum board members. The piano, on the other hand, brings to mind the feminine world of the comforting and comfortable home—it is a sculpture of a newborn, after all. But
the cool, smooth, hard surface of Levine’s glass, as was the case of Brancusi’s marble, does not
allow the infant head to descend to the level of maternal sentimentality.
Levine maintains tremendous similarities to the works preceding hers that she appropriates
from, but she opens up their accumulated meanings to even more, new ones.
11.3.2 Use of Materials
The materials artists use to create their art throughout history have generally contributed to
the value of the work. Using silver or ivory or gems or paint made from a rare mineral or numerous other materials that are costly and difficult to obtain literally raised the monetary value of the
work produced. If the artwork was made for a political or religious leader, the cultural value of the
work increased because it was associated with and owned by those of high status in society. On
the other hand, using materials at odds with social values raises questions in the viewer’s mind.
For example, ivory was—and still is—a desirable material for carving, but it is illegal to trade
in elephant ivory within the United States as African elephants are now an endangered species.
Viewers’ awareness of and sensitivity to the plant and animal life impacted in the production of
art is increasing, and may actually be a factor in the materials an artist chooses to use.
Damien Hirst (b. 1965, England) began his career in the late 1980s associated with the Young
British Artists (YBA). Hirst, along with others in the group, was known for his controversial subjects and approaches in his art. Much of his art from that time to the present has been concerned
with spirituality—Hirst was raised Catholic—and with death as an end and a beginning, a boundary
and a portal. One of the motifs he has returned to throughout his career is the butterfly. With its
transformative life cycle, from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult, the butterfly serves for Hirst as
a “universal trigger.” That is, the symbolism associated with the butterfly’s life cycle, linked by the
ancient Greeks to the psyche, or soul, by early Christians to resurrection, and by many to this day to
innocence and freedom, is so deeply imbedded in human consciousness that it springs to the viewer’s mind automatically. In his art, those associations are the foundation upon which Hirst builds.
Hirst began his experimentations with butterflies in 1991 when he created a dual installation
and exhibition, In and Out of Love (White Paintings and Live Butterflies) and In and Out of
Love (Butterfly Paintings and Ashtrays). Both contained living butterflies that were intended to
and did die over the course of the five-week display. (
solo/1991/in-out-love) His first solo show, In and Out of Love, set the stage for Hirst’s career and
reputation as an artist who confronts definitions of art and provokes the viewer to explain how art
helps us to grapple with boundaries between and intersections of life and death, reason and faith,
hope and despair.
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Touching upon his interests in religion and science, including lepidoptery, the study of
butterflies, Hirst often makes biblical references in the titles of his artwork, and he mimics aspects
of how butterflies have traditionally been displayed in his compositions. He began the Kaleidoscope
series in 2001, not using entire living or dead butterflies, but using only their wings, symbolizing
for him a separation from the unavoidable ugliness and unpleasantness of life—the butterfly’s hairy
body—to preserve only the fleeting beauty of the wings and their associations with the swift passing
of time. The Kingdom of the Father is a later work in the series, dating to 2007. (Kingdom of
the Father, Damien Hirst:
of%20the%20Father_72.jpg?width=90%25&height=90%25) The title, compositional elements,
and overall shape of the mixed-media work are directly linked to the artist’s absorption with
religion: here, as with a number of works in the Kaleidoscope series, the work looks like a stained
glass window found in the Gothic cathedrals that fascinated Hirst as a child.
Despite the splendid effect of their vivid colors, energized compositions, and iridescent glow,
some viewers object to the materials Hirst uses: the beauty and luminosity is derived from thousands of butterflies killed so that their wings could be used in his work. In 2012, the Tate Modern
in London mounted a retrospective of Hirst’s art, the first major exhibition in England to review
work from his entire career. His 1991 installation, In and Out of Love, was recreated as part of the
show. ( Some critics and animal rights
activists lodged complaints about the estimated 9,000 butterflies that died over the course of the
twenty-three week event. For example, a spokesperson for the Royal Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) stated, “There would be national outcry if the exhibition involved
any other animal, such as a dog. Just because it is butterflies, that does not mean they do not deserve to be treated with kindness.” The Tate Modern issued a statement that the butterflies were
“sourced from reputable UK butterfly houses.” They also defended their use as integral to Hirst’s
art, stating, “the themes of life and death as well as beauty and horror are highlighted, dualities
that are prevalent in much of the artist’s work.”
In essence, the museum, along with many other individuals and institutions over the course
of Hirst’s career, acknowledged the complaints, but accepted the artist’s actions as an acceptable
part of his creative process, and determined his artistic intentions were of greater importance than
any issues of morality raised. Simply, the butterflies were the means to a higher end, his artwork.
11.3.3 Digital Manipulation
Digital manipulation of photographs through the use of Adobe Photoshop and other computer
software is so commonplace today it generally goes unnoticed or without comment. Digital manipulation is used by amateur and professional photographers alike, and can be a helpful, constructive tool. When photographs are manipulated with the aim of altering factual informatio…
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