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11.5: Before You Move On

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    Key Concepts

    Traditionally, art has a history of being judged and censored and more than likely in the fu- ture artists will continue to blur many boundaries, sometimes even offending the audience’s sensitivities. Offenses may address politics, social injustices, sexuality or nudity, among numerous other subjects and concerns. Contemporary societies, on the other hand, generally do not want to endorse any form of censorship; but, at times due to the sensitive nature of art, it happens. Some contemporary art is expected to make some groups in society uncomfortable. Artists over time have pushed many boundaries in society and have brought to the surface questions about a society’s moral beliefs. Just the questions alone have perhaps expanded the freedom of artistic manifestation. So, works such as Duchamp’s Urinal, or Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary challenge society’s moral beliefs and values by the nature of the art itself. They also shock segments of so- ciety by exploring the notion of aesthetic taste. Such works that challenge traditional notion of ethics and aesthetics, in fact, have led some to believe that contemporary art practices are based more on the idea than the object of art.

    Nevertheless, artists do make ethical decisions in such areas as the appropriation of others’ work, what materials they use in their work and how they use them, the digital manipulation of their work, and what role they play as observers of the events they capture in their art. And, as we have seen, museums and other places in which art is exhibited play distinct roles and have responsibilities in how art is preserved, interpreted, and displayed.

    Test Yourself

    1. Is there a relationship between art and ethics? Defend your answer explaining why you agree or disagree. Select works not used in this text to clarify your stance. Attach selected works with captions. Add a commentary at the end of your response explaining why you selected the art works and their significance to the topic.
    2. Select two ethically controversial works of art from different periods in history. Explain how each work was received at the time it was made, and how changes in societal values have impacted acceptance of the works today.
    3. Should certain types of art be censored? Explain your answer and select at least two examples to assist in clarifying your statement. Give an opposing response with justifications and select works to describe and clarify your opinion.
    4. Describe one way appropriation has become acceptable in contemporary art.
    5. What does it mean when some contemporary artists question what is an “original” work of art, and what is a “reproduction?”
    6. What concepts was Damien Hirst exploring in using butterflies in his artwork? What did the butterflies symbolize for Hirst?
    7. Why is it important that news photographs not be altered?
    8. What was the ethical dilemma photojournalist Kevin Carter faced when he photographed a child during the 1993 famine in Sudan?
    9. What acts of censorship did Adolf Hitler and his associates engage in prior to and during World War II?
    10. As guardians of culturally significant objects, what obligations do museums have?
    11. Describe how claims of “copyright” and “fair use” came into play in relation to Shepard Fairey’s portrait of Barack Obama.


    Appropriation: the use of pre-existing objects or images with little or no transformation applied to them.

    Censorship: the suppression of art and other forms of communication considered to be objectionable or harmful for moral, political, or religious reasons.

    Cloning: the repeated duplication of a digital effect.

    Ethical Judgment: an alternative decision between being morally right or morally wrong.

    Ethical Values: principles that determine one proper behavior in society.

    Formal qualities: the elements and principles of design that make up a work of art.

    This page titled 11.5: Before You Move On is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Pamela Sachant, Peggy Blood, Jeffery LeMieux, & Rita Tekippe (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) .