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The Use of Human Subjects in Art: Statement of Principles and Suggested Considerations

Adopted by the CAA Board of Directors on October 23, 2011.

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?

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.

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