The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones deserves a lot of credit for writing these observations on a recent UK campaign to ‘save’ a Manet painting at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. His point can be easily expanded to the reflexive anger expressed toward art sales in general. When great sums of money are exchanged for works of art, neither the art nor the cash is destroyed in the process. The art market does not create value, it distributes objects:
[T]his rhetoric about “saving” art has to stop. Unless the potential foreign owner is a wealthy maniac who bought it with the express intention of shredding the canvas and feeding it to the hounds, or a thriller writer who wants to do CSI on it to find out if Manet was Jacques le Ripper, or an agent for the Chapman brothers, the painting is not in any need of being “saved”. […] It is almost impossible to defend art honestly. The language of politics –as George Orwell argued in a famous essay – is inherently false and deadening. When it comes to art, politics demands that every commission, every purchase, every gallery be a service to society and a national necessity. Any institution that needs public funds has to speak this language, and so ends up talking gobbledegook. […] Art does not heal the sick, or feed the poor. It is useless. It is gratifying. It should never be spoken of in the miserable language of need, or seen as a vulnerable object of charitable concern. That is to confuse things and people. Save people. Enjoy art.
Save Your Rhetoric: Why Can’t Museums Defend Art Honestly? (Jonathan Jones/Guardian)