Artist ethics and art's audience: Mus Musculus and a dry-roasted peanut

McGoldrick, Rosemarie (2023) Artist ethics and art's audience: Mus Musculus and a dry-roasted peanut. Arts, 12 (4) (174). pp. 1-9. ISSN 2076-0752


The museum’s instrumentalisation of contemporary art as a visitor attraction has come to mean that any use of live animals in art now must participate in and acknowledge the politics of spectacle, which for other animals means the optics of the zoo or the circus. At the same time, established social media can now deliver mass criticism of an artwork, requiring artists to learn how to manage reputation as a matter of professional art practice. In this article, I examine art’s changing ethics by working from a dilemma I faced recently as an artist over a simple 30-s video I had made featuring a wild house mouse that I had trained between COVID-19 lockdowns to take food from my shoe. Subsequently, I decided not to exhibit, publish or broadcast that video. I argue that it is the digital—its exposure of the micro-issue, its close focus on the individual case, its onus on linguistic precision and its diligent proofing and testing of arguments large or small—that now transforms the work the artwork does. This may now push artists into a much wider range of ethical decision-making about artworks to arrive at the artist’s regular mode of reflection and evaluation via a level of hyper detail and super nuance that, historically, artists of no particular celebrity have had little or no reason to engage with before.

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