Artists and the Community: the Ethical Face of Aesthetics

2005 Conference

My paper will address the ethical dimension operating in the interaction between artists, through their work, and the viewing community. The realms of aesthetics and ethics have traditionally been seen as irreconcilable, but by applying the philosophical concepts of Emanuel Levinas and their permutations explored critically by Luce Irigaray, I will propose that art communicates an awareness of the other, and expands the experiential milieu of an attentive audience. An artwork unfolds as an enigmatic proposition requiring contemplation, or questioning. It stands in for its creator, not as a costume but as candour, stripping away pretence. It is a statement of experience, lived or imagined, revealed in a hiatus of everyday affairs, asking us to add our own knowledge to its incomplete hypothesis. We look into the work as if it were a face, as if it were all eyes, absorbing and radiating simultaneously. As with the human face, we are fascinated by the possibility of similarity, but intrigued by difference.