‘What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?’ Betrayal and the Feminist Ethics of Aesthetic Involvement
The #MeToo movement has put a spotlight on sexual harassment and abuse in a number of industries, notably the arts. It has raised a set of questions about how to receive the artistic works of the accused, particularly when such work has been beloved or formative for an individual, and collectively when it has cultural significance and influence. Claire Dederer, writing in The Paris Review, posed the question bluntly in her piece, “What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?” This question, and the range of (often perplexed) responses to it, reveal the lack of adequate resources to evaluate responses to an artist’s actions that may bear on our aesthetic valuations of the artist’s work and that may be experienced as quite intimately personal. What do we do with the sense of betrayal that may follow on the discovery of an artist’s bad behavior? What are the implications of consuming of such art? What concepts and norms might help to guide reflection? These questions bear on the ethical significance of love and appreciation for artworks and artists, and, more broadly, the ethical consumption of artworks. This paper responds to these questions in two ways: first, it develops an account of “aesthetic involvement” to elaborate the sense of betrayal that may follow accusations or revelations of sexual harassment and abuse. Second, it proposes a feminist ethics of aesthetic involvement in response to such betrayals and to dilemmas about the individual and collective ethical consumption of artworks.
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