Virtues & Vices

TJC Gallery, Spartanburg, South Carolina
October 30, 2019 – January 24, 2020

"Vice knows she is ugly, so she puts on her mask." —Benjamin Franklin 

In our pluralistic society, moral disagreement is inevitable. What makes some behaviors and characters praiseworthy, but others condemnable? How universal are our judgments, what criteria do we use to make them, and what justifies whatever confidence we may have in the voice of our conscience? This exhibition invites you to reflect, question, and explore the ways in which art can depict moral virtue and vice, and the evaluative stances that artists might take toward their subject matter.


The paintings featured in this exhibition, especially when juxtaposed, reveal an ambiguity that defies simplistic moralizing. One recurrent theme concerns the ways in which characterizations of virtues and vices either underwrite or challenge assumptions regarding masculinity and femininity. Many of the depictions—from the military exercises in William H. Johnson’s Training for War or Julien Binford’s Man Smoking a Cigarette—may depend on changing social attitudes for their moral message. Moreover, motivations and acts that are otherwise virtuous can become vicious in certain contexts, and vice, as Benjamin Franklin pointed out, often wears the mask of virtue. Thus, for example, when does piousness become self-righteousness? At what point does cleanliness become vanity?


Featuring paintings by William H. Johnson, Winfred Rembert, Eugene Thomason, William Tolliver, John McCrady, Wayman Adams, Helen Moseley, Irma Cook, Bob Thompson, Arthur Rose, Lamar Dodd, Clarence Millet, Ernest Barnes, Balcomb Greene, William Dodge, Caroline Durieux, Mary Whyte, Julien Binford, and George Luks, Virtues & Vices hopes to inspire engaging and charitable conversations about the human conscience and that which guides our individual moral compasses.


This exhibition is guest-curated by Converse College professor of moral philosophy, Kevin DeLapp.


On Thursday, January 16 at 6:30pm, Converse College professor of moral philosophy Kevin DeLapp will lead a curatorial conversation on Virtues & Vices during Spartanburg ArtWalk. The event is free and open to the public.