TO WHAT EXTENT CAN WE CONSIDER ETHICAL A PIECE OF ART BASED ON A HUGHLY CONTROVERSIAL EVENT (OR FIGURE) FROM CONTEMPORARY HISTORY? “I cannot see how to refute the arguments for the subjectivity of ethical values, but I find myself incapable of believing that all that is wrong with wanton cruelty is that I don’t like” (Bertrand Russell). To begin answering this question, and before defining any terms, I would make clear how I will be using the case of Imelda Marco’s history and life, and regarding the fact that David Byrne recorded an album based on it.
To begin with, it has to be clear that this real life situation is key to answer this question, as “the essential function of art is moral” (D. H. Lawrence). What this implies is that people, by identifying themselves to a piece of art, they consider them as moral, and so, the background behind this piece of art must also be considered moral, because without the background, art is useless; it has to represent and stand for something. Furthermore, the case of Imelda is considered to be, not only controversial, but unethical mainly because of the fact that she used the money of a poor country to finance her vanity.
For example, Imelda is highly recognise for her humongous collection of shoes, which have lead to the opening of a museum, which has been calculated she could wear a different pair of shoes every day, without repeating any, for eight years. Nevertheless, Imelda has stood up and defended her vanity and its [vanity’s] intervention in her politics. Her point is that she is not vain, but beautiful, and this beauty is necessary to govern a country such as the Philippines, mainly because people need this incentive of someone ‘beautiful’ who they can consider as a role model.
Thus, it could be argued that it was a political strategy. In summary, what we are trying to answer is if an unethical action can be moralised by the fact that art has to be moral, as argued by Lawrence. If Imelda Marcos is spending her poor countries’ wealth just to fund her vanity, then how could this be moralised by art; it would be as if we tried to moralise the holocaust by drawing a painting. Nevertheless, Imelda’s case is different, as she argued that her actions were to incentivise the Philipinnos for them to have a better morale.
And she did this by arguing that she didn’t represent Vanity, but Beauty. If we consider how Leo Tolstoy includes in its definition or characteristics of art the fact that it has to transmit the “highest and best feelings”, then it could be argued that what David Byrne tries to do with the recording of this album, is to create art and his does it by transmitting Imelda’s idea of beauty. In conclusion, Imelda’s case can be consider an ethical piece of art, even though it is a controversial event, if the intention of the piece of art is that of transmitting the highest and best feelings, as it is beauty.
Nevertheless, the morality behind it would have to be that of beauty. If, however, the morality, and therefore transmission of an idea, disrupts with any human value, such as the right to equality in the case of the Philippinos, it must be consider unethical. Looking at this perspective of equality, and considering Kantian ethics, if we were to argue that the piece of art was based on Imelda’s injustice, it should be considered unethical, as we are using people as means to an end; either for Imelda’s vain end to beauty, or for everyone else’s end, which would be that of enjoying the art.