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'Wrong Art': Contemporary Conformity, Morality, and the Issue of 'Artistic Value'

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Organizer: Armando Maggi

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This seminar addresses the issue of 'wrong' works of art, that is artistic artifacts that we perceive as 'wrong,' 'unacceptable,' although they also seem to express an artistic value. The questions are: what makes something 'artistic' and what makes it 'wrong'? “Must Writers Be Moral?” is the title of a recent NYTimes article on the “morality clause” major publishers such as HarperCollins and Penguin Random House have added to the standard book contract.[i] Although the ‘morality clause’ concerns the author’s behavior and not the content of their work, it implies a connection between the written page and its author. “Although literature is one thing and morality a quite different one,” Sartre writes in Literature and Existentialism, “at the heart of the aesthetic imperative we discern the moral imperative. For, since the one who writes recognizes, by the very fact that he writes, the freedom of his readers, and since the one who reads, by the mere fact of his opening of the book, recognizes the freedom of the writer, the work of art, from whichever side you approach it, is an act of confidence in the freedom of men.” Is Sartre's statement applicable to Leni Riefensthal's "Olympia" or "Triumph of the Will," works of Nazi propaganda? How do we interpret our current censorship of filmmakers, comedians, writers, whose works disappear from streaming platforms because they have committed something we see as unethical or immoral? Proposals from all disciplines and national literatures are welcome.
[i] Judith Sulevitz, “Must Writers Be Moral?,” New York Times Jan 9, 2019.

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