Program Recap: Ethics in the Arts

Middle School Virtual Summer Program

By Ariel Sykes, Assistant Director of the Ethics Institute

Virtual 2020 Summer Program
Ethics Workshop
Introduction to Ethical Decision-Making
Led by: Karen Rezach
Spoken Word Workshop
Art Activity
Representing Values
Led by: Marie Micchelli
Spoken Word Workshop
Spoken Word Workshop
Inside my head . . .
Led by: Jasmin Roberts
Leadership Workshop
Ethics Workshop
Ethical Questions in Art
Led by: Marie Micchelli
Scribble Drawing
Portrait Workshop
Collage Self Portraits
Led by: Marie Micchelli
Ethics Workshop
Ethics Discussion
Authenticity in Art
Led by: Karen Rezach
Photography Workshop
photography Workshop
Led By: Laura Larson
Ethics & Portraiture
History & Elements of Portraiture
Ethical Issues in Portraiture
Led by: Marie Micchelli
Ethics Workshop
Ethics Discussion
Empathy & Art
Led by: Karen Rezach
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This one-week virtual summer program for middle school students ran from July 13-17, 2020. As part of this program, students explored ethical issues in the arts, through art making, art viewing, and discussion. Visiting artists introduced students to their art-form, with a focus on: (a) the ethical issues explored through their art and artistic practice and (b) the technical and conceptual strategies they use to create their art.

Throughout the week students explored fundamental concepts central to ethics and art, that served to enrich their understanding of themselves, the world, and their relationships with others. Students broadened their awareness of ethical issues and used their unique voice to explore ideas through art. At the end of the week students curated a virtual art galley of their artwork and engaged visitors in dialogue about the ethical questions raised through their work.

The following provides a summary of the central questions and activities that grounded each day of this program:

Monday: Exploring Ethics & Values in Art

Guiding Questions:

  • What can art make us wonder about?
  • What do you value?
  • What is ethics?

Ethics & Art Workshop

Students began the program by being introduced to the concept of ethics, the ethical decision process and how it connects to art. Students then applied what they had learned by studying three pieces of art and asking “See, Think, Wonder” questions.

Exploring Value through Art Activity

Students also began to consider how their own values can become art. First, students shared what they value, using an object from their home. Then students picked a value and were challenged to discreetly depict it through their art.

Ethical Discussion

Today’s ethical discussion centered around INTENT vs IMPACT by exploring the following question:

We usually don’t know the intention of the artist in the creation of their artwork, but people can have strong reactions to an artwork. When, if ever, so should that intention of the artist matter when we are engaging with an artwork?

Tuesday: Authenticity in Art

Guiding Questions:

  • How should we use our words?
  • What do you value? What is important to you?
  • When should we speak out or stay silent?
  • How can you be and live your authentic self?

Visiting Artist: Jasmin Roberts, Spoken Word

Today’s visiting artist was Jasmin Roberts, spoken word poet and activist. They performed a piece for the group called Fairytales and talked about how they use their voice to share their experiences and advocate for change in society. The students watched and discussed a few other examples, focusing on the power of words to share who you are and what you value.

Students were then guided through creating their own spoken word poem that captures something about their live experience. Many students chose to write on the prompt: “Inside my head…” and some shared their poems with the group.

Ethical Discussion

Students closed the day by engaging in an ethical discussion around authenticity. During the discussion, students stressed the importance of having the courage to be unique.

Wednesday: Representation and Respect in Portraiture

Guiding Questions:

  • What is the power of portraiture?
  • How should artists represent themselves or others through portraiture?
  • How can you represent yourself through a self-portrait?

Visiting Artist: Marie Micchelli

Students learned about the history of portraiture and the different key elements of portraiture. They were then asked to make self-portrait collages that used symbols to represent who they are and what they value.

Ethical Issues in Portraiture Workshop

Today’s ethics discussion touched upon several ethical issues:

  • Intention/impact 
  • Plagiarism/originality
  • Ownership/context

Using two portraits of Napoleon, one historic and one modern, students focused on how and why the meaning of a painting can differ for the sitter, the artist and the viewer. One insight the group had was the importance of the portrait’s name: “the names tell what’s important…it can reveal the artist’s message.”

Student Generated Questions:
• If an artist is painting, but the sitter doesn’t like the way they are shown,
can they have a say in what is done with the piece/how it is perceived?

• If the artist meant to show one thing, but the viewer sees something
else [that is negative], what should the viewer do?

• Do artists have complete autonomy when making portraits

Thursday: Empathy and Responsibility in Photography

Guiding Questions:

  • How can you convey an idea, feeling or experience through photography?
  • Why does perspective or point of view matter in photography?
  • What ethical issues does the practice of photography raise? How can photographers grapple with those issues?
  • How can a photographer be both objective and empathic?

Visiting Artist: Laura Larson, Photography

Our visiting artist for the day was Laura Larson, a photographer and college art teacher. Students examined and discussed different photographs to examine how photographers practice empathy in their practice. Laura stressed the importance of photographers considering how their own biases can impact the way they treat the subject. She encouraged the students to think of the questions:

  • How am I treating the subject? Does the photograph represent them well?
  • Am I being empathetic?
  • How am I putting the photograph out into the world? Who can see the final product?
  • How much control does the subject have? Should they have more or less?

Then, students were prompted to take their own self-portraits which would provide answers to the following questions:

  • How do I see myself?
  • How do others see me?

Ethical Discussion: Sympathy vs Empathy

Students explored the difference between sympathy and empathy. One student said, “sympathy is just looking down on someone, empathy is being on the same level”. Students considered how they can use empathy when taking pictures. One student mentioned that she often has to consider the feelings of others before posting on social media, saying that she has to respect the feelings of her friends should they not wish for a particular photograph to be posted. 

Friday: Exploring Ethical Questions through Art

Guiding Questions:

  • Who are you as an artist and ethical person?
  • What have you learned about yourself and others through this experience?
  • What ethical questions are brought up by your artwork?

Gallery Curation & Artist Statement Workshops

On the last day of the program, students worked to curate their own virtual gallery show. Through a series of workshops, students worked on writing their own artist statements, naming their gallery exhibits and artwork, as well as crafting ethical questions to accompany their work. Students also worked one-on-one with program teachers to finalize their artwork for the gallery.

Virtual Gallery Show

The virtual gallery show was open to family and friends, many of whom joined us over zoom. Students led visitors through two gallery exhibits: “Me, Myself, and I” and “Expansions” that included artwork from all the art forms introduced throughout the week: spoken word, collage, and photography. Each gallery explored different perspectives on how artists are viewed, both by others and themselves. 

Me, Myself and I

The “Me, Myself, and I” exhibit explored what is beyond the images we project to others by curating artwork that captures the internal thinking and feelings of the artists.

Me. Myself, and I
By: Cami, Evelyne, and Sienna
What is beyond our projected image?

How can Art Capture what is not seen by others?

"Projecting my thoughts" by Cami

Ethical Question:
Is a portrait still authentic if it does not give all the available information or feelings of the artist?

I am so many thing. But I can't chose just one.
I like art and music.
I like playing around with fashion and baking. However, I can't say "I'm a baker" or "I'm an artist."
That's okay!
I have plenty of time to figure our who I am and what my life holds for me.
Understand that sometimes you don't need a plan!
You don't need to obsess over not getting into college
when you got a. D on your quiz.
You don't need to worry about where you will be in 20 years.
Live in the moment and go with the flow.
You got this!

Seize the day
by: Mariel

Ethical Question:
Should you make boundaries between living in the moment and planning for the future?

"The pages of me"
by Evelyne

Ethical Question:
Does an artist have to be empathetic to their viewers?

"Blend of me"
by Sienna

Ethical Question:
What parts of me are blended and which parts stay separate?
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This exhibit asked visitors to think about and discuss:

  • Is a portrait still authentic if it does not give all the available information or feelings of the artist?
  • Should you make boundaries between living in the moment and planning for the future?
  • What parts of me are blended and which parts stay separate?


The “Expansions” exhibit explored the way art can expand someone’s thinking, feelings and values by pushing them to consider new perspectives.

By: Keira, Ella, and Amina
How can art open up new perspectives
and new ways of understanding?

"To Care, To Love"
by Ella

Ethical Question:
Do we care for others just to be fair?

"The Explosion"
by Keira

"The Explosion"
by Keira

Ethical Question:
How can art change someone's perspective?

by Amina

Ethical Question:
Should we reject something just because we don't understand it?
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This exhibit asked visitors to think about and discuss:

  • Do we care for others just to be fair? Should we only give to others to make things equal?
  • Should we accept/reject something just because we don’t understand it?
  • How can art change someone’s perspective?