ETHICS IN THE NEWS - FOCUS
One news story brought into focus through a Q & A session with an expert at the Center for Ethics
Today's Focus is with Carlton Mackey
Today's Focus is with Carlton Mackey
Whether it’s a painting, a piece of music, or a theatrical performance, art is created for and by communities as a way to give deeper meaning to everyday existence. In this way, art can also be used to bring about social justice by exposing ethics abuses in provocative ways. Author and monologist Mike Daisy’s performance of the monologue entitled “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” not only brought up corporate ethics abuses, but Daisy himself was accused of ethics abuses in the telling of the story. Asked to perform the monologue on the radio show This American Life, Daisy assumed the role of a journalist by claiming that all of the facts in his story were accurate. After falsifications were discovered, the story was retracted and an apology was made by Daisy. Despite this negative press, this story and others created a buzz around Apple’s working conditions in China that have since been addressed by the Fair Labor Association. Apple has taken the FLA report seriously and will be enacting changes in their business practices. This story was covered in last week's Ethics in the News. Below is an excerpt from a conversation with Carlton Mackey who is the Chair of the Ethics & the Arts Initiative at the Center for Ethics and a professional photographer. Having developed numerous initiatives in the area of art and ethics, Mackey has provided perspectives on art as a conduit for social change.
What power or influence can art have in ethical debates? How can art be a jumping off point for those conversations?
Art is a great launching pad into ethical conversation not because art neutralizes the topic but because art offers people an entry point into the conversation. This entry point is in many ways more accessible than other forms of scholarship, such as, writings and published articles. People find levels of connectivity to the arts in virtually every aspect of their daily lives. It’s no mistake and not to be taken lightly that vehicles come fully equipped with devises that allow people to transmit and engage with art. Art is available from when people wake up to when they go to bed and there are very few people who don’t utilize those forms. In this way, art is a great launching pad because it’s pervasive. We are uniquely situated as human beings to interact with the arts. Because of its widespread accessibility, the use of art has become an important vehicle for discussions about ethics.
Where should the line be drawn between facts and artistic expression, between the identity of the artist and the truth they are trying to portray?
The great thing about art is that it lends itself to multiple truths. Everything is open for interpretation. Art is uniquely equipped, indeed, defined by its ability to be openly interpreted. As a result, in the sphere of art those lines are often blurred and artists have permission to blur those lines. Artists invite people into their imagination and truth can simply be that you may escape for a moment through their art. Art allows me to create something that’s in my head. Art has that ability and the line shouldn’t be drawn that limits artists to creating things that are “true” in the standard definition. If this line were drawn a key function of art, which is to help people reimagine possibilities, would be limited.
I guess the question we have to ask when discussing Daisy is in defining what role he was playing in presenting these “truths” to the world. If he was identifying himself and we were engaging with him as an artist, there would be no ethical breach. The ethical breach occurred because he presented himself not as an artist but as a journalist, which is the source of the deception. People engage with journalism for different reasons than with art. There has to be a solid attempt in journalism that, even if it is biased, stories have to be held up to the standards of journalism in that they are fact checked and vetted. The world depends on that as a source of information. News stories can serve to inspire or uplift, but they are also a source of information to trust.
Was Daisy presenting a monologue or a one-act play? Could one pay a ticket to see it? Or was he acting as a journalist? That distinction should be made so that there’s a level of trust to be established. Everything I said is true about the arts: Daisy has permission, he has the right, he has the poetic license, and free speech. The crux is that if the monologue was serving as art then that’s good, but the fact that it was disguised as journalism is bad.
How can art best be used for social change?
Art can be at its best and used for social change when it does two things. The first is when art educates or heightens one’s awareness. Second, art is effective when it does a combination of challenging and/or inspiring. The challenge is when artistic projects make us rethink what we may have held as comfortable truths. An example of this is when we have comfortably allowed ourselves to think of an ethnic group or socioeconomic group in a negative way. If art makes us step back and rethink these stereotypes, it’s serving a function. It can also inspire if it doesn’t challenge. If a viewer does not feel challenged per say, the inspiration may lead them to want to do better, be better, act better. Right now at the Center for Ethics we are exhibiting thirteen paintings by Sal Brownfield. A subset of those paintings is entitled, Celebration of Healing: Lives Impacted by Breast Cancer. The intimate portraits of survivors challenge viewers to re-think stereotypes about dealing with cancer and inspire new ways to understand art as a conduit for healing.
|Mike Daisy performing, Source The New York Times|