Ethics and the Arts

23 July 2014 | Mentions

Ethics and the Arts Macneill book cover

"This book proposes that the highest expression of ethics is an aesthetic. It suggests that the quintessential performance of any field of practice is an art that captures an ethic beyond any literal statement of values. This is to advocate for a shift in emphasis, away from current juridical approaches to ethics (ethical codes or regulation), toward ethics as an aesthetic practice—away from ethics as a minimal requirement, toward ethics as an aspiration. The book explores the relationship between art and ethics: a subject that has fascinated philosophers from ancient Greece to the present. It explores this relationship in all the arts: literature, the visual arts, film, the performing arts, and music. It also examines current issues raised by ‘hybrid’ artists who are working at the ambiguous intersections between art, bio art and bioethics and challenging ethical limits in working with living materials. In considering these issues the book investigates the potential for art and ethics to be mutually challenged and changed in this meeting.

The book is aimed at artists and students of the arts, who may be interested in approaching ethics and the arts in a new way. It is also aimed at students and teachers of ethics and philosophy, as well as those working in bioethics and the health professions. It will have appeal to the ‘general educated reader’ as being current, of considerable interest, and offering a perspective on ethics that goes beyond a professional context to include questions about how one approaches ethics in one’s own life and practices."


"During the last 2 weeks of preparing the manuscript of this book to send to the publisher, I was invited to a Symposium, held here in Singapore, on 'Reconsidering contemporary acting and actor/performer training from intercultural perspectives.' Although this required me to steal time set aside for this book, I attended the Symposium and am pleased I did so, because much of what was discussed was relevant to ethics and the arts. The Symposium topic focussed on culture, yet many of the concerns expressed about intercultural work related to valuing and respecting the cultural forms that one may draw on in theatre and performance work—particularly when performing traditional artforms that derive from cultures other than one's own. Nevertheless, some of the presenters at the Symposium, who work 'interculturally', spoke of being so immersed in an artform from 'another' culture that it had ceased to feel foreign and there was no longer any sense of intercultural relationship that needed to be negotiated. As I understand this: relating to an artform, such as Kathakali from Southern India, may become natural for someone who has been immersed for a long time in the practice. It is analogous to someone fluent in more than one language: there is no sense of mixing, but a richness that is gained from bilingual, or multilingual fluency. Similarly there can be an ease that comes from immersion in another artform that could be described as bi-cultural, or multicultural fluency. That understanding however, should not deflect any of us from recognising that within this ease and facility there is an underlying respect for the integrity of the art form that one has imbibed. The respect inherent in this relationship is primarily an ethical posture. 

The Symposium on 'Reconsidering contemporary acting and actor/performer training from inter-cultural perspectives' was organised by Intercultural Theatre Institute (Singapore) and The Institute For Interweaving Performance Cultures of Freie Universität (Berlin) and held in the Intercultural Theatre Institute (Singapore) from 28 to 30 November 2012." (Art's Rich Contribution to Ethics, Paul Macneill, p. 250)

Ethics and the Arts
Editor: Paul Macneill
Publisher: Springer Science & Business Media, 2014
ISBN: 978-94-017-8815-1; ISBN 978-94-017-7900-5; ISBN 978-94-017-8816-8