Aesthetics Seminar: Art and Morality

Dr. Cynthia Freeland

Fall, 1994

Final Paper Guidelines

You may write on a topic of your own choice. Your paper should be written as a case study of a controversial artwork (or artworks). Combine your exploration of this case with some illuminating theoretical analyses, drawing in part upon the readings assigned in Unit Three of the course (at least two articles). You should also try to incorporate materials from Unit One (philosophical views about the definition of art and its role in society) and from Unit Two (Carrier's views about truth in art interpretation). There is no set format for the paper ,but you should use these framing devices and attempt to synthesize as much of the material studied in this seminar as possible:

  • (1) Identify the salient moral issues: What makes the artwork(s) morally problematic or controversial? To what extent are the moral issues a matter of content? To what extent are they a matter of context? How do these two interact? What are examples of moral positions or statements that have been enunciated regarding the artwork(s)? On what (whose) terms has the moral debate occurred? After listing these issues toward the start of your paper, you should return to them at the conclusion and suggest how they could be resolved (or if they cannot be resolved, why not).

  • (2) Contextual issues: What are the relevant background factors that contribute to fixing both the moral issues and the paths to resolving them? For example, what are the key factors of funding, access, ethnicity or nationality, audiences, critics, etc., for the work(s) you are examining?

  • (3) Aesthetic issues: What kind of art is involved in your example? How does this kind of art function in its social/cultural environment? How is the art interpreted by participants in debate about it? --by the artist? --by critics? How should it be interpreted? Is it relevant to the moral debate whether the artwork is good as art? (How can this question be answered?)

  • There are many examples that you may choose to focus on in your case study. Some are discussed in the assigned readings (e.g. the works of Mapplethorpe and Serrano, The Satanic Verses, Spike Lee's movies, Benetton advertisements, etc.). You should try to do further outside research to gather more information about the example you choose. You may also choose to write on another example. Some possibilities would be: an artist discussed in the Outsider Art anthology: a performance artist involved in NEA controversies, such as Karen Finley; a group show such as the 1993 Whitney Biennial or the "Primitivism" exhibit at the Metropolitan; the artwork of David Salle, sometimes labelled "pornographic" by feminists; historical artworks on social, religious or political themes (by, e.g., David, Caravaggio, or Manet); the book of photographs In the American West by Richard Avedon; newly marketed or re-contextualized work by indigenous peoples such as Australian aborigines. Other examples are fine, but you should choose a prominent example so that you can discuss actual debates about the case. See me for suggestions for further readings on these topics.

  • Your paper should be roughly 10 pages in length, TYPED (word-processing is OK); papers are due on Tuesday, December 12, 1994 by 5 p.m. in AH 513. ABSOLUTELY NO LATE PAPERS WILL BE ACCEPTED without a medical excuse. NO INCOMPLETES WILL BE GIVEN without a medical excuse. (Explanation: I will be on leave and out of the country in the spring of 1995. Also, in my experience, 99% of students never finish incompletes. No matter what they say or think! So, this is "for your own good"!) Keep a copy of your paper, in case of instructor error or loss.

  • Your grade on this paper will be the basis for 50% of your final grade for the course. Plan ahead so you can complete your paper on time! (The other 50% is based on class participation, the Unit II paper, and completion of journal assignments.)

    March 21, 1996

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