The Conditions of Visibility: The Affect of Conceptual Art


The Affect of good artworks can be difficult to explain or describe, particularly in relation to conceptual art. The experiential process of engaging with an artwork involves the spectator perceiving the physical art object as well as receiving a concept. For an aesthetic experience to result, or for the viewer to be affected, the artist must be skilled and the receiver must adopt the relevant attitude. Many theorists argue that the correct attitude to adopt is one that is objective and ‘disinterested’. I argue that a ‘loving’ attitude, in the Iris Murdoch / Martha Nussbaum sense derived from an ethics of care / virtue ethics framework is also appropriate when engaging with art in order to achieve an aesthetic affect. This open, caring attitude requires the receiver to be receptive to the concepts contained within the work as well as its formal features. If the concepts implored are ethical or social, a disinterested attitude may impede the appropriate up-take of intended affect. Therefore, I argue that pure aesthetes are misguided when they take their ‘disinterested’ attitude too far and argue that ethical judgements do not apply to art qua art. If the artist is making an ethical point, or if the concept involved relies on ethics, then a caring critique is not a contradiction in terms; the viewer is encouraged to adopt multiple perspectives in order to get closer to an objective whole. I will explore the notion of affect through the art of a contemporary, conceptual Western Australian artist, Steven Morgana.


Peer reviewed, Abstract only, affect, aesthetics, conceptual art, cognitive response, virtue ethics, ethics of care


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The Author:

Dr Laura D'Olimpio