Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Challenge for our resident aestheticians

Maybe it's because I drank too much coffee this morning, but I literally felt ill after reading this article (click on the link for the article itself). Apparently this art student at Yale intentionally impregnated herself multiple times, inducing miscarriage each time, and made the results of her miscarriages (including blood) into an art project. Her goal was to "spark conversation and debate on the relationship between art and the human body." The exhibit will include recorded footage of the student having her miscarriages.

The student said that she felt her project is in keeping with the true goal of art, which is to be a medium for politics and ideologies and not just a commodity. I have not particularly studied anything relevant to the intersection of ethics and art, but my questions to our aesthetics experts (and others interested in responding) would be:

1) Is the real goal of art simply to be a medium for "politics and idealogies?" My intuition would be no- this view would seem to preclude art for art's sake. While you cannot divorce art from its socio-political or historical context, it would be a stretch to say that the purpose of all art is to comment on such things.
2) I don't know a lot about the intersection between ethics and art, but I can't help but think that some boundary has been crossed. Does anybody write about the intersection of the body with art? I would intuitively put forward the principle that "it's wrong to abuse your body in order to make art," but of course "abuse" would have to be defined accordingly. At the very least, I agree with the views mentioned in the article that it trivializes the decision to have an abortion and the act itself.
3) In general, if we know that an artwork has been created on the basis of some unethical action (assuming her actions were unethical), should that bear on the way we judge the art itself? I'm not an ideal critic, so I can't seem to separate art from process in this case. What if, for instance, a woman decided to become bulimic in order to make an art project, using both the vomit and footage of her purging in the exhibit? Should we judge the relevant aesthetic features (perhaps the patterns made by the vomit) apart from how the art was made? Perhaps these scenarios are not analogous, but it at least gets me thinking.

At any rate, I would love to hear your thoughts on this question, and any other issues it brings up for you.

1 comment:

Howard Curzer said...

Much hangs on what counts as abuse. Piercings and tattoos are prohibited by some religions because they are considered abuse, for example. But your suggestion hints at the possibility that it is OK to abuse your body for other goals, but not for art. Why not art? Why think that art is a less worthy goal than science, for example?

Why think that the artist you describe acted unethically? Her actions were icky, but where is the moral wrongness?

Perhaps it would be useful to consider a different sort of example. I am told that Gauguin abandoned his wife and children so that he could go to Tahiti and paint. (He is probably not the only artist to do something like this.) Thus, Gauguin's art was created on the basis of an unethical action. I think that this says nothing about his art, but much about Gauguin.