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Should art be ethical? Writing for the sake of writing

Oscar Wilde believed that art is in need of expression of anything but itself. As he notoriously claimed in the preface to his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, "All art is quite useless." This indicates clearly that the value of making art is on artistry. He regarded life as a kind of art form, to be lived beautifully. Many of us who are creating a form of art, in my case writing, learned since childhood that art can be worthy only if you earn a living off it otherwise, it's nothing but a waste of time and only a hobby. My question is, should we attach Transgressive Writing to the money-making perspective? Or connect it with ethics and morals? Or the meaning and purpose by itself? Or should we write for the sake of writing itself?

Santiago Sierra, 10 PEOPLE PAID TO MASTURBATE, Tejadillo Street, Havana, Cuba. November 2000, 2000. © Santiago Sierra. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

As a transgressive writer, I would like to argue the mindset of financial value and ethics and even the end goal of the story as a whole. I agree 100% with Wilde and the concept of "art for art’s sake," though it doesn’t actually appear in his writing. What I believe is that the creation of any form of art doesn't necessarily need the applaud of a handful of audience or readers as for instance, Harry Potter did. An artist creates art just for the sake of art hence I am here to argue why we should write for the sake of writing without thinking about Ethics, Money, recognition, and Meaning.

The invisible hand vs. Art for the sake of art

It's true that we all need money to survive a day-to-day life in this absurd society of Adam Smith. But I can't imagine humiliating art to the level to please the majority of idiots. Wilde warned artists not to be interested in seeking approval or creating art for demand. It simply means that if you're creating any form of art for the sake of attention, money, and trends, and it's not good for you, it will never be good for anyone else. A true artist, according to Wilde, is someone who "takes no notice whatsoever of the public. The public to him are non-existent." What it means is that when you write, for example, the ones who should adapt are the audience rather than the writer and that the writer "should never try to be popular. Rather, the public should be more artistic."

In the world that 99% of content creators are copy machines of popular or viral content for the past two centuries, this is somehow in itself a transgressive perception that we should write without caring what the "customer" needs and wants. In a capitalist world in which the value of everything is attached to the demand and supply, how can one claim to write without caring what people want to read?

the ones who should adapt are the audience rather than the writer and that the writer "should never try to be popular. Rather, the public should be more artistic."

The meaning of VALUES and Postmodernism

In another article, "Postmodern Literature Characteristics: Define the moral and purpose of Transgressive fiction?" I defined postmodern fiction as "a form of literature characterized by the use of metafiction, unreliable narration, self-reflexivity, intertextuality, and which often thematizes both historical and political issues." Hence, I see no connection between this form of literature and value systems in general. Postmodernism, which I believe includes Transgressive Fiction, in general, is a movement that is against anything that is considered as the grand narratives and ideologies of modernism, as well as opposition to epistemic certainty and the stability of meaning.(source)

Living in the fluid period of the 21st century, it's idiotic to not think in the context of postmodernism. A time in which it rejects the "universal validity" of binary oppositions, stable identity, hierarchy, and categorization of any forms. We are living in a time in which objective facts are dismissed. And hence, the "universal validity" means nothing but a narration of the minority in control of the majority's thoughts and actions.

Santiago Sierra, 160 CM LINE TATTOOED ON 4 PEOPLE, El Gallo Arte Contemporaneo. Salamanca, Spain. December 2000, 2000. © Santiago Sierra. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

Art and Morality

If you are a writer or fan of Transgressive Literature (or any other form of art) or possibly the hater of it, you may come across the books, films, music,... to be banned because of certain transgressive elements like sex and gore that the 'hypersensitive brainwashed dingbats' dislikes.

Writing, as a form of art, should not have any limitations. Writing should be free of judgments when it comes to the concept of ethics. Otherwise, what are we writing about? Why are we writing? That superman has again evolved into a more muscular man who now learns to wear his underwear inside? What does ethics mean in writing? To not write from a perspective of a pedophile like Lolita because then the idiot majority may think the author was a pedo himself? Or that sexualizing kids by Hollywood is totally ok but if a movie like Cuties uses 11 years old actresses to portray 'real 11 years old girls' sexualizing them? This is absurd! We're living in an idiocracy.

Living in a dumb society like this makes Ethical and moral principles vital for sure because they need protection against their own corrupted minds. In art, specifically Transgressive Art, ethics needs to be approached from the viewpoint of postmodern ethics. As postmodernism, rejects the foundation of morality in a hierarchy of values on which codes of ethics are based. So, I believe ethical codes that are founded on the principles of morality as non-ambivalent and universal are outdated, manipulative and a means to control. Transgressive ethics instead should aim at "the emancipation of the autonomous moral self and the vindication of its moral responsibility" (source).

For the ones who believe artworks are bound to moral education art that is bad or immoral can causally affect our character, resulting in moral harm. Maria Caruso in her article explains that "moral harm is the idea that artworks possess a strong disposition to affect our moral beliefs such that we are less able to distinguish between what is good and what is bad." She argues that immoral artworks do not have this kind of causal power over our moral beliefs. So, proponents of the moral harm thesis are in error to attribute such a power to artworks.

Offense and Morality: Ethics Codes for Writers


It is commonly seen as a parent category of disgust; that is, what disgusts us will also frequently offend us (source). Offense is not equal to harm. Actually it officially was first distinguished from harm by John Stuart Mill in 1978. People like Joel Feinberg (legal theorist) have expanded upon this idea of offense as displeasure by saying that offense typically covers a broad category of "universally disliked mental states". So it means that the offense is itself a type of insult. Hence, if reading a novel having your beliefs challenged does not necessarily "amount to having those beliefs insulted" (source).


"Most artworks will express only generalized attitudes" (source) so the person who claims that their beliefs have been insulted by a blah blah book or film cannot legitimately claim that his particular beliefs are being insulted. Likewise, if this book or film, for example, causes the mental displeasure that comes from experiencing offense is so slight, that it is implausible to categorize it as a real harm as well. For these reasons, we should not "take offense as a necessary or sufficient condition for immoral judgments" (source).

Art is about expression. In the case of Transgressive Writing, what we write is not about anything but as Bruce Vermazen argues, "attributing mental states, events, and processes to an imagined utterer of the work." This means in form of expression we're not making these attributions but that the work expresses it. Hence, as a writer, I believe that writing is bound to no ethics and needs no ethical codes. If reading a piece of writing damages your morality and questions your value system I either recommend you to be happy about it because that means growth or do not try to read something that is out of your tiny ethical box. As Maria Caruso in her paper indicates, "Immoral Art can't morally harm us".


As Edward Winkleman states any "abhorrent human behaviors are represented in artwork" and in our case, Transgressive Literature doesn’t make the work, "or even the artist, unethical for tackling such subjects". I want you to think about the Picasso’s Guernica who captures the extreme suffering of a brutal mass murder which is an immoral act. Will you see him as if he had done anything immoral himself? Or think about The Rape of the Sabine Women by Rubens or paintings by Jacques-Louis David or Nicholas Poussin was a good reason for arresting them?

In my opinion, how true the representation seems to be, the only valid issue to be concerned about any form of artwork is not the subject but if it is well-made or poorly made. As Transgressive Authors, we are not here to glorify the act of our characters but to express it as a form of art to convey a message. So, while there is an overwhelming amount of shocking elements in Transgressive writing and art that may result in moral outrage, reactions of moral condemnation are not appropriate in cases of offensive or disgusting subject matter. For this reason, an immoral artwork can be narrowed to exclude artworks that express a defensive attitude toward merely disgusting or offensive actions and not in form of expressionism.

To finish this article, even if any form of art were able to argue that such artworks were immoral, this would not lead to the conclusion that they are morally harmful. Of course, if a reader still wishes to project his or her disgust at certain behaviors onto an object I've written in any of my books, there’s no way for me to stop them. I’m not in the business of dictating which elements of human existence artists should or should not pretend doesn’t exist. I'm here to tell you to create art freely and with no fear.

Tell me what do you think? Tell me, can the end justify the means?Did I offend you? If yes, my pleasure ;)

Fun fact

Spanish artist Santiago Sierra’s use of anonymous individuals raises similar ethical questions, though rather than invading their privacy, he asks them to submit to him bodily. For 160cm Line Tattooed on 4 People (2000), he paid heroin-addicted prostitutes the price of a shot of the drug to allow him to tattoo them. For Group of Persons Facing a Wall (2002), he paid homeless women the price of a night in a hostel to stand facing a gallery wall. And for 10 People Paid to Masturbate (2000), he paid workers $20 to masturbate in front of a camera. Sierra does seek consent from his subjects, but the nature of this consent is highly questionable. These pieces draw attention to the exploitative, transactional nature of our society, pointing to the commodification of bodies and exposing the power structures that operate within our everyday lives. Conceptually and politically, the works might be seen as noble, but in actually using the bodies of vulnerable individuals, Sierra must enact the very exploitation and dehumanization he critiques. He forces us to ask if it is okay for an artist to use people. (source)

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