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Grossmont's Zoe Close: "Controversial Art: When Ethics and Aesthetics Clash"

The San Diego Philosophy Forum is pleased to announce that Zoe Close, Chair of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Grossmont College, will speak on "Controversial­ Art: When Ethics and Aesthetics Clash."

This event, open to the public and free of charge, will take place 6:30-8:00 PM, Tuesday, September 23 at the North University Public Library: 8820 Judicial Dr. (near the 805 highway's Nobel Exit).

This is a food-friendly space, with light refreshments and coffee available.  More information, if any, will be posted, as available, to


Recognizing the problematic, and even dangerous, conflict between art and morality, the philosopher Plato struggled heavily with this when he laid plans for his perfect society in The Republic. Since that time philosophers have continued to seek the proper relationship between ethics and aesthetics. In our contemporary world this is one of the liveliest topics among artists, critics and philosophers. For example, on any given day we can read about a music group that has been taken to court on grounds that their lyrics are obscene, or of a visual artist whose image is claimed to violate the rights of members of our culture or of a sculpture being removed from a public space because the community finds it objectionable.

It is important for philosophers to consider how we should respond to changing moral values, changing creative forms and how these two sets of values relate to one another. In this session I will present the two leading and opposing philosophic positions on the subject. The presentation will consider such major questions as “Can art be good aesthetically but morally objectionable? and “Is moral goodness essential for producing artistic beauty?” We will also have the opportunity to view several controversial contemporary art pieces. These examples will be quite varied and from different parts of the world. I have constructed a set of questions that participants will receive and answer for each of the pieces. The questions will provide a guide for group discussion. This presentation provides a robust model for making controversy a focal point from which to see clearly the nature of value inquiry.  - Zoe Close


Professor Close is the Chair of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Grossmont College.  She enjoys both creative and analytic pursuits, teaching courses that range from Aesthetics to Logic.  She is also an accomplished pianist and has accompanied for ballet and opera. 

The relationship between art and morality is a long-standing area of professional work for her, and she has explored this philosophic problem in many different parts of the world.  Presenting at philosophical events in the wider San Diego area as well as state and national conferences entail some of her most rewarding experiences and professional relationships. 

She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including three different National Endowment for the Humanities grants; the 2002 Vasconcellos California State Award for advocacy of the California Community Colleges; the 2004 Distinguished Faculty award for Grossmont College; the 2005 Hayward Award for Education from the California Community College Board of Governors and is the recent recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship to Africa.

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  • Andrew

    Thank you, Leila. Loved your comments during. (I hope we can get you to present one day, as well...)

    1 · September 29, 2014

  • Cindy

    I thought the conversation was very interesting. Also, to Zoe's credit, in a one-hour presentation on aesthetics and morality, I think you need to pick very provocative images to illustrate points. There was not enough time spent on this topic to go for more subtle pieces of artwork.

    1 · September 23, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      I agree, more to reflect on art would have been great.

      1 · September 24, 2014

    • Andrew

      I think you're right, Cindy, It would be great to have a part II on this.

      September 29, 2014

  • Leila

    I think Zoe's presentation was great. It sets out the territory for the thorny issues of aesthetic appreciation, namely, can we appreciate something for its own sake, while the incompatibility that moral values attached to the work present. When we are called upon to judge a work of art, can we dissociate sexual values, religious values, historical values, social/political values, etc. from our reactions? Hence the quandary of the moralist versus the pure art view.

    2 · September 23, 2014

    • Brent

      Leila, your comment helped me to orient myself to Close's presentation. At first, I wondered why she was "subjecting" art works to a moralistic interpretation. With your comment, I see the difficulty in dissociating our values and prejudices from our response to a work of art. Thanks for your comment. I suppose we can free ourselves from these values and prejudices, but that would require an act of art.

      2 · September 25, 2014

    • Arthur M.

      Is the lack of meaning in our values itself a value with meaning?

      1 · September 26, 2014

  • Phil C

    Iw was not impressed

    September 23, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      I would have liked to have more time to listen and understand your objections. :-)

      September 24, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    I liked the discussions that the talk and the images inspired.

    September 23, 2014

  • Andrew

    Unique interactive presentation both accessible and rigorous at once.

    1 · September 23, 2014

  • James C.

    I hope we can tape this one for us 'out-of-towners'. Help me out, someone. Isn't controversial art a tautology?

    September 8, 2014

  • Ron S.

    like I said . I would love to ;her this one. But I have no way to get there.

    May 27, 2014

    • Ron S.

      Not a big deal. Would be niece while Maggie is here. Distance and time would not be a problem because Maggie could do the driving.

      August 26, 2014

    • Ron S.

      This study was funded by the Carneige

      August 26, 2014

  • Andrew

    As you have seen, I have cancelled tonight's (August 26) session, and apologize for any inconvenience.

    1 · August 26, 2014

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