Ethics and Aesthetics: Alfredo Jaar and the Role of Art in Political Critique


Art has a major role in political critique and in the contemporary world of art, ethics, politics, and aesthetics intersect. Using the work of Alfredo Jaar as an example of these intersections, I argue through my reading of Judith Butler, that his art can provide us with better, more egalitarian versions of populations to be perceived as grievable. Once we apprehend grievability, we can affectively apprehend that lives in the context of war and violence are precarious. Here lies the power of art to challenge the dominant norms and frames. Here also lies the central role of aesthetics as a political critique. From this argument I claim that, instead of accounting for aesthetics being separate from ethics and politics, it is important we understand these fields as intersecting with each other. I analyze the work of Susan Sontag on images of suffering and violence, Butler’s turn to aesthetics in her own work, and Jaar’s own conflict over the use of beauty to convey suffering. I defend that apprehension is a term distinct from recognition but central to understand the intersection between ethics, politics, and aesthetics. Key Words: Aesthetics, Affect, Butler, Ethics, Jaar, Politics, Sontag.



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Carolina Ana Drake
State University of New York, Stony Brook

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