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The Mass Media

Ethics within Art

Art is a very subjective field. Many would agree that passion, emotions, and self-expression fuel the arts. Consequently, leaving more subjectivity to be included. Interpretation of art and the artist versus the audience are topics that have been argued and discussed for years. Yet, an even more controversial topic within the arts is the inclusion of ethics. I recently read an article written by artist Natasha Bell. In this article, she discusses her personal experiences with ethics within her art. She asks, “What will we forgive in the name of art?”

This question resided with me. I thought of other topics this applied to as well, such as science. People know more on the issue of ethics within science than they do with art. Ethics within art is something that seems to be continuously overlooked. However, it is important to be considered, not only by the artist, but the audience as well. The audience are the supporting foundation for these artists.

In her article, Bell describes her final project for a performance art graduate class. She explains how she “paid a classmate $1 to befriend [her] best friend Laura and write reports on how she thought Laura was coping after a recent break-up” (1). When the project finished, her friend Laura was finally able to read it. She explains, “I got an A for the class, but lost my friend. It was a horrible thing to do, but I was 21 and obsessed with Sophie Calle and the line between art and life” (1). Many artists think the same as Calle and Bell. There is an argument that art reflects real life and in order to portray that, artists may have to cross boundaries. We see this idea play out a lot within photography. Some photographers will snap a photo of a starving child or of a grieving mother. Some people may feel uncomfortable upon observing such sensitive images. While others may see what the artist sees and that’s a depiction of real life.

Moreover, Bell goes on to describe Calle’s work and how it fits into the matter. For example, “Calle followed a man she’d met at an art opening in Paris to Venice, where she spent two weeks spying on and photographing him as he went about his business in the city” (1). She then “presented the images alongside text detailing both her observations and emotions during the period, as Suite Vénitienne” (1). These photos grew in popularity as they were rather controversial. Calle went on to work on more projects that violated the privacy of others, for example in 1983 “Calle worked as a chambermaid, exploring and documenting the private belongings and writings of hotel guests” (1).  Calle wanted true, raw depictions of real life. And although Calle might have not had a problem with this violation of privacy, some may have. When an artist like Calle crosses boundaries, as the audience, we are almost forced into crossing the same boundaries as we observe the art. As we take in Calle’s invasive photos, arguably we are invading these individuals’ privacy as well. 

However, this then begs the question of what should be censored within art, if anything.  Many argue that art is free expression and it should not be restricted. The censorship of art, especially art that crosses ethical boundaries, has been debated for many years. The art community still has yet to meet a consensus on the issue. It is difficult to completely pick one side in this topic. The topic is not black and white, and rather very grey. In my opinion, art should be free expression. However other’s privacy and basic rights should be respected as well. 

  1. https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-artists-bend-ethics-arts-sake