15 Nov Where do I stand with ethics and art? Following from the lecture with Dr. Michele Whiting.
“Why is Banksy allowed to write on walls?” was a question I was asked once by a wonderfully curious 9 year old. And it sparked a very interesting critical debate in our after school art class. Context alters a lot, once upon a time Banksy was not allowed to write on walls. If you didn’t like his work would you be annoyed if he placed his graffiti on the side of your house. Yes. Ethically, if he wasn’t a household name you might consider it vandalism. But we all agreed we admired how he made us ask questions about the things that are around us, political regimes and social justice.
Which leads me nicely into something I feel rather strongly about – Argot. (Argot is a secret language used by various groups—including, but not limited to, thieves and other criminals—to prevent outsiders from understanding their conversations.) I do not like art language that intentionally excludes audience. I enjoy language and relish the new vocabulary that the MA brings but I would consider it unethical to unleash it upon students of any age to confound, alienate and exclude. I feel it is my duty to distill these things into something digestible, appropriate to levels of learning but still stimulate,encourage questioning and introduce new theories to discuss openly. This method sits well with my preferred flat approach to teaching and learning. Beuy’s said art is for everyone. I too like an egalitarian approach.
Where possible I recycle, re-purpose and use materials sparingly. I hate waste and have developed a method for filtering turps to reuse (using coffee filters) and extend the lifespan of it in the studio. I’m uncomfortable with materials that are overly seductive or slick. Do they try try too hard, to alienate or position themselves in some hierarchy to audience? Do visible flaws in an artwork make them more vulnerable, more human? I have always worked problems out and planned within the notebook (often to the death) before producing an object. Maybe this inhibits my making but careful consideration is given before making the commitment of time, finances and resources. (Is ethical procrastination a thing lol.)
I do not buy or use animal hair brushes preferring taklon synthetic hair. It’s a trade off I’m sure. The chemicals needed to produce a synthetic brush versus the harvesting of fox, badger, horse, goat, mongoose, squirrel, ox or hog hair. Morally I do not want to use an animal hair brush and always alert new students to painting of being aware of it before you buy a brush.
There are so many intrinsic and extrinsic values to ethics. But Maria Puig de la Bellacasa hits the nail on the head when she speaks of Care V’s Concern. Artists are drawn to neglected things, (not just because they are free) they care, some artists use their practice to give marginalised issues a voice. Not as an opportunity to take an accusatory moral stance but to engage where they can add value. Problem solving.
I found this topic more engaging than I first expected. Our breakout room question was ‘can artists represent the culture of a marginalised group’. Our answer was yes, but….an artist must be aware and mindful of the position they are taking. Not one of looking down, creating hierarchy. (this is perhaps why Sierra’s Tattoo piece literally makes my skin crawl) I am always incredibly mindful of how the autonomy of projects I facilitate is handled by our funders. (Government bodies) The outcome can’t be about photos and handshakes for the newspaper, I never allow art to be a cheap band-aid repair for social deficits. The scope of the project must grow from the participants, always owned by them and never imposed. Often I am mediator between these two groups, ‘qui bono’ is a great leveler. Who benefits? In an ideal scenario there will be a 50% split between aesthetic and ethical considerations. A project of that nature that can achieve this is a rare beast, but I endeavor to care enough to continue hoping that it is achievable. By reading more texts around the subject of ethics I hope to continue informing my practice more.