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Måns Wrange

Måns Wrange

Art, morals and freedom of expression are closely but ambivalently interrelated. On the one hand society’s (repressive) tolerance of art’s challenging of prevalent moral values can be said to constitute one of the cornerstones of freedom of expression. On the other hand the art world not infrequently sees criticism of an artwork from a moral perspective as an attack on the same freedom of expression.

During the past decade this relationship has grown more complicated. Firstly, a number of moral debates have arisen whereby artists have been accused of things such as paedophilia, cruelty to animals, sexism and racism, which has meant that even prominent representatives of the cultural world have presented ethical arguments against controversial artworks. At the same time, in countries such as the usa, Austria, Italy and Denmark reactionary criticism of aspects of cultural life has arisen, whereby conservative and/or populist politicians have tried to quash artists’ freedom of expression on the basis of moral arguments. Secondly, events such as Jyllands-Posten’s caricatures of Mohammed and the call for removal of artworks from exhibitions so as not to risk ‘provoking religious groups’ have pitted the principle of freedom of expression against cultural‑relativism arguments and respect for ‘the other’.

Thus it is now sometimes problematic for an artist to refer to freedom of expression, as a kind of reflex, every time there is a critical discussion of an artwork’s ethical aim and effect. At the same time it would equally be extremely problematic if as an artist you had to refrain from involvement in contemporary issues without the maximum contrasting effect in terms of political correctness. The really interesting discussions are not infrequently concealed in the greyscale of ethical ambivalence.

This year’s degree students at the Department of Fine Art include practices that do not try to avoid this greyscale – be it with regard to ethical and politically complex discussions or vice versa: the search for aesthetic and poetic paths that specifically evade ethical and political definition. On behalf of the department and my colleagues I would like to wish you newly graduated artists all the best for the future.

Måns Wrange, Professor of Fine Art