Aesthetic and Ethical Mediocrity in Art

  • Katherine Thomson


In this paper I suggest a way that an already promising view on ethical art criticism can account for the value of mediocre artworks which endorse morally commendable perspectives. In order for the view I call prescriptive ethicism to deal with such cases of critical ambivalence, it must take account of the interaction between moral content and form in art. Such interaction is seen in the way the aesthetic features of an artwork partly determine its moral value, or success in providing ethical insight. I argue that if a work lacks the kind of moral value which is determined by the interaction between form and content, then we have little reason to engage with that work. When a work expresses an otherwise commendable moral attitude in a clumsy or trite manner, while it is clearly compromised aesthetically, it is also compromised ethically. For such a work forfeits the ability to reveal new aspects of ethical life.

Philosophical Papers Vol.31(2) 2002: 199-215

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eISSN: 0556-8641