Ethics has always been a stumbling block in the sphere of arts. The challenge here is that art provokes and disturbs. Therefore, in some cases, it is perceived as immoral or unethical. For this reason, it is commonly questioned whether museums should develop comprehensive codes of ethics in order to prevent excessive and unnecessary disturbance of their visitors due to displaying provocative arts. However, to answer this question, understanding the obligation of museums to the public is of significant importance.
Museums make a unique contribution to the development of society and public. Their central obligation is to collect, preserve, interpret, and display the works of art. As a result, they are obliged to provide the public with the access to collected artworks, thus fostering its development and initiating thinking process. This obligation is a historically established tradition. It originated from the collection of natural and cultural artifacts so that they could nourish human spirit and advance their knowledge once displayed. This tradition made the museums obliged to benefit the public and ground their operations on the basis of public services by preserving and transmitting cultural and historical heritage as well as connecting past, present, and future generations (Museums Association 1). That is why museums are trusted by the local communities, national governments, audiences, donors, and sponsors. Therefore, they should make effort to maintain trust and satisfy the needs of all stakeholders.
To maintain the trust, museums should develop codes of ethics. However, in this case, it is critical to keep in mind that their codes of ethics are unique. This specific feature is associated with the fact that art is subjective, and the perception of art and emotions connected to it are as well subjective. In this way, avoiding conflicts of interests and preferences is impossible because at least one of the stakeholder groups will be infuriated or dissatisfied with the displayed works of art. Therefore, in their codes of conducts, museums should determine the ways to comply with the requirements and expectations of all the stakeholders mentioned above. However, they should not consider the potential feelings or reactions of the audience to art. Instead, they should focus on their initial moral obligation to public – collecting, interpreting, and displaying art, thus potentially contributing to the initiation of the thinking process and obtaining new knowledge (International Council of Museums). In this way, the codes of conduct should pay specific attention to complying with national and international standards of museums’ operations, collecting and exhibiting works of art, cooperating with sponsors and donors, and taking proper care of collections.
More than that, what is special about museum codes of conducts is that they should be reviewed on a timely basis. This specific requirement is associated with the constant rapid development of art and the introduction of new styles in art as well as the evolution of artworks. From this perspective, to satisfy the needs of the stakeholders and meet the interests of the public, museums should be modern and work with different styles. Finally, the codes of conduct should clearly determine the frameworks of cooperation with museum workers, consultants, and the state so that all legal provisions are strictly followed.
All in all, the primary obligation of museums is to preserve cultural and historical artifacts so that it is possible to connect past, present, and future generations. That is why the codes of conduct they create and follow should aim at supporting standards relevant to museums and operating within the frameworks of legislation. Because art and the perception of art are two subjective determinants, the museums should not include the biased selection of artifacts into the codes of conduct, as assessing the works of art is the role of public, not museum workers.