Task Force on the Use of Human and Animal Subjects in Art
The CAA Board of Directors passed the following resolution and approved the publication of two Statements of Principles and Suggested Considerations on October 23, 2011.
WHEREAS the College Art Association is a nationally recognized source for standards and guidelines in the practice of art and art history; and
WHEREAS, as a regular part of their practice and scholarship, artists, curators, and art historians create or engage with works that use human and animal subjects; and
WHEREAS the CAA Task Force on the Use of Human and Animal Subjects in Art has determined that there are few existing principles or guidelines for using such subjects in art; and
WHEREAS the task force, through a survey of the association’s members, has determined that there is an interest in having CAA address the issue of the use of such subjects in art; and
WHEREAS the task force has submitted a report of its findings and recommendations (the “report”), along with “The Statement of Principles and Suggested Considerations” (the “statements”) to the Board of Directors;
NOW BE IT RESOLVED that
1) the CAA Board of Directors accepts the recommendations in the report and the statements; and
2) CAA staff is requested to distribute the report and the statements to the association’s membership through appropriate means, including posting the statements on the Standards and Guidelines section of the association’s website; and
3) the CAA board accepts the recommendation to form a new task force of the association to develop technical guidelines for the use of animal subjects in art; the board requests that the task force formulate a proposal for the composition, mandate, and work program of such a new task force to be submitted to the board.
The Use of Human Subjects in Art: Statement of Principles and Suggested Considerations
Many areas of the visual arts use human subjects—from the photographs taken of bystanders on the street, to the models in the studio, to the participants in a performance. In the use of human subjects in art, the College Art Association endorses the following principles:
Artists and other professionals in the visual arts must be allowed the full range of expressive possibilities in order for art to maintain a vital role in human society. With that expression, however, comes responsibility when artists and others use human subjects in art. CAA does not endorse any work of art that undermines a person’s agency or fundamental dignity except with the explicit and knowing consent of that individual. Further, CAA supports the use of human subjects who are fully aware and informed of their participation in a work of art.
To perpetuate this ethical standard, professionals in the visual arts should consider the following questions before engaging in any practice using human subjects:
- Some artists and curators may consider practices in which the human subject may be put in a difficult or distressing situation. CAA recommends that any user of a human subject in such a work pose these three questions before beginning: Can you make the same point by replacing the human subject? By reducing the number of human subjects? By refining the use of human subjects?
- Have you explored the institutional standards and guidelines at your home institution, if any, that apply to the use of human subjects for research?
- Are you aware of the national standards and guidelines for the use of human subjects in research, such as those produced by the National Science Foundation or by other professional organizations to which you belong?
- Have you discussed any practices that may result in pain or discomfort for the human subject? Have you considered alternatives?
- Have you developed a release form (as appropriate, with information on the work of art) for all human participants?
- If you are using human subjects without their knowledge (e.g., “found footage” in a video), have you considered issues of privacy?
The Use of Animal Subjects in Art: Statement of Principles and Suggested Considerations
Many areas of the visual arts use animal subjects—from photographs taken of the environment, to the use of materials in art derived from animal byproducts, to the use of live animals in a performance. In the use of animal subjects in art, the College Art Association endorses the following principles:
Artists and other professionals in the visual arts must be allowed the full range of expressive possibilities in order for art to maintain a vital role in human society. With that expression, however, comes responsibility when artists and others use animal subjects in art. CAA does not endorse any work of art that results in cruelty toward animal subjects. Further, given that animals do not have the right of refusal, CAA calls on artists and other professionals in the visual arts to examine with the greatest of care any practices that require the use of animals in art.
To perpetuate this ethical standard, professionals in the visual arts should consider the following issues and questions before engaging in any practice using live animals:
- No work of art should, in the course of its creation, cause physical or psychological pain, suffering, or distress to an animal
- CAA recommends that any user of animals in art pose these three questions before beginning the work of art: Can you make the same point by replacing the animal? By reducing the number of animals? By refining the use of animals?
- Have you explored the institutional standards and guidelines at your home institution, if any, that apply to the use of animal subjects for research?
- Are you aware of the national standards and guidelines for the use of animals in research, such as those produced by the National Science Foundation or by other professional organizations to which you belong?
- Have you discussed any practices that may result in pain or discomfort for the animal subject? Have you considered alternatives?
- Have you done research on the biology of your animal subject to understand aspects of its physiognomy and experience?
In its May 2010 meeting, the CAA Board of Directors approved the charge for a Task Force on the Use of Human and Animal Subjects in Art. In the summer and fall of that year, task-force members were chosen after a solicitation of names from the board and a discussion with possible candidates. Task-force members represented various constituencies, including artists, art historians, and bioethicists who have knowledge and experience in the use of human and animal subjects.
The task force convened on December 15, 2010, to discuss its charge and to approve its chair, Paul Jaskot of DePaul University. It also established the areas of research for each task-force member, who looked into existing guidelines for the use of animals and humans in experiments and performance as well as existing practices in the art world related to the use of humans and animals. The task force also conducted a survey of CAA members in early 2011 asking for their input on these matters; the group also compiled a short bibliography of ethical and artistic debate on these subjects.
While deliberating the topic, task-force members noted that the American Association of University Professors considers the standard Institutional Review Board regulations for federally funded scientific projects as woefully in need of reform. Thus CAA would not want to endorse something that was already unworkable for science, let alone for art. At the same time, the task force emphasized the importance of providing professionals in the visual arts with knowledge of existing guidelines and practices in other fields. Artists and curators are advised to apprise themselves of both ethical issues and current safeguards. Referencing the work of Bernard Rollin, an American philosopher, bioethicist, and professor, the task force recommends the approach of “reminding rather than teaching” as a more likely means of gaining cooperation of artists and curators. Further information was presented on current practices in the use of human subjects in art, including the relative lack of the basic use of signed releases. As a further extension of human subjects, several task-force members discussed another issue unaddressed in the field, that is, the privacy rights of subjects of art. Artists have used material, images, and other elements gathered unknowingly from human subjects; does this question need to be addressed?
In turning to the use of animals in art, both in and outside academia, several task-force members thought that CAA should advocate a clear position on these matters; others strongly disagreed. The group also discussed possible gray zones—such as the conundrum of artists using animals to highlight the processes and assumptions of science to critique the subject position of scientific thought itself—and the difficulty of not wanting to limit artistic practices. The group considered Rollin’s three stages of review for science: Can you make the same point by replacing the animal? By reducing the number of animals? By refining the use of animals? The task force enthusiastically endorsed an emphasis on humane treatment as crucial to its final recommendation. It also agreed that emphasizing the responsibility of the artist or curator would be key to its recommendation.
The task force’s survey included yes-or-no responses to direct questions to guarantee a clear representation of member opinions. It also posed further questions that required more differentiated responses from survey takers to make distinctions between certain kinds of animals and degrees of participation of human subjects in order to engage their views on the complexities of the issue. The questionnaire concluded with opportunities for open-ended responses.
The survey response overwhelmingly indicated a need to protect animals used in art—92 percent supported banning cruelty to animals in the production of an artwork—and urged CAA to develop guidelines for this purpose. The clear majority of CAA members (81 percent) support guidelines on the use of animals in art, while 59 percent strongly support or support CAA’s role in the creation of guidelines on the use of human and animal subjects in art. These results indicated that CAA has a responsibility to do this work and should be empowered to establish guidelines that restrict the cruel treatment of animals. Relatively few survey respondents felt strongly about the use of human subjects in art; however, since this practice in art is increasing, this opinion is likely to change.
On the board’s acceptance of the report, several of its authors recommended that the board set up a committee of experts that would produce guidelines concerning the treatment of animals in works of art. While task-force members were not unified over whether this additional step was necessary or desired, they agreed that involving further levels of experts—including legal expertise—would always help refine whatever direction the board wanted to choose. (This second committee has not yet been established.)
Authors and Contributors
Task Force on the Use of Human and Animal Subjects in Art (2010–11): Paul Jaskot, Chair, DePaul University; Wayne Enstice, University of Cincinnati; Michael Golec, School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Ellen Levy, Independent Artist; Marlena Novak, Independent Artist; Bernard Rollin, University of Colorado; and Kristine Stiles, Duke University.