An Introduction to the Philosophy of Art

By Richard Eldridge | Go to book overview

9
Art and morality

Some controversial cases: Mapplethorpe, Serrano, Finley,
and others

In 1989 national protests erupted in response to a decision by the US-government-funded National Endowment for the Arts to support exhibitions featuring Robert Mapplethorpe, whose work included homoerotic photographs, and Andres Serrano, whose work included Piss Christ, a5foot by 3 foot photograph of a wood and plastic crucifix floating suspended in the artist's urine. In response to the protests, Congress enacted a law directing the NEA to “take into consideration general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public” in awarding grants.1

In June 1990 NEA chairman John Frohnmayer, citing this law and describing their work as “indecent, ” then vetoed awards to four artists— Karen Finley, Holly Hughes, Tim Miller, and John Fleck—that had been recommended by a NEA peer review panel. Hughes, Miller, and Fleck are gay and deal with homosexual issues in their work.2 Finley's most notorious work is her 1989 performance piece We Keep Our Victims Ready, inspired by the case of Tawana Brawley, a 15-year-old girl who was found on November 28, 1987 alive near her home in upstate New York, covered with feces and wearing only a Hefty trash bag. Ms. Brawley claimed to have been abducted and assaulted by three or six white police officers. After several weeks of investigation, a grand jury concluded “there is nothing in regard to Tawana Brawley's appearance on November 28 that is inconsistent with this condition having been self-inflicted.”3 In her performance piece, Finley asks about Brawley's staging of her abduction and discovery:

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-205-

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An Introduction to the Philosophy of Art
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments viii
  • 1 - The Situation and Tasks of the Philosophy of Art 1
  • 2 - Representation, Imitation, and Resemblance 25
  • 3 - Beauty and Form 47
  • 4 - Expression 68
  • 5 - Originality and Imagination 102
  • 6 - Understanding Art 128
  • 7 - Identifying and Evaluating Art 150
  • 8 - Art and Emotion 183
  • 9 - Art and Morality 205
  • 10 - Art and Society: Some Contemporary Practices of Art 231
  • 11 - Epilogue: the Evidence of Things Not Seen 259
  • Bibliography 264
  • Index 277
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