I use the case of outsider art to explore the broad ethical question of benefitting from the vulnerability of others, as well as to clarify the more narrow concerns for curators and museum professionals regarding the ethical reception of morally fraught artworks. Outsider artists are socially marginal, and often vulnerable, individuals. It may seem that curators who collect and display outsider art, as well as audiences who appreciate it, take advantage of this vulnerability. I consider three standard responses to this concern: the requirement of consent for the collection and display of outsider art, curators’ duties to rescue outsider artists from unfortunate circumstances, and the intent to foster dignity for outsider artists. While consent is a standard requirement for the ethical treatment of artists and their artworks, I find that it is not sufficient. As this discussion of outsider art will show, the use of consent must be guided by an intent to foster dignity for the artist.
- outsider art
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