Once again Tiffany Jenkins has cut through the cackle
and speared with surgical precision the political hype merchants who insist that the arts are a universal panacea for the ills of society (Perspective, 13
The idea that the arts are supposed to “educate” us masses is bound up with the business model of organisations, which has been uncritically accepted by the public sector, the NHS and education.
It appears that nothing should be produced unless it has some form of economic or social “impact”.
With this in mind we now frequently see in museums and galleries tortuously worded explanations for the artist’s work: “X’s art is both eclectic and serendipitous”, “Y considers the spiritual response to the intuitive process” et cetera.
It is interesting that arguably the greatest painter of all time, Rembrandt, has told the viewer nothing about his motives for producing his work, nor had he any apparent desire to create “real cultural benefits” from it.
And he died in relative poverty and obscurity, his later work unappreciated by his contemporaries.
Yet his interpretations of the life and death of Jesus – some of which are currently exhibited at the Hunterian Gallery in Glasgow – are probably the most moving and inspired expressions of his personal faith, and I suspect have had more influence on the faith of those who see them than any amount of theological ramblings.
As Tiffany Jenkins rightly points out: “The way to value the arts is to ask about their quality.”
Regardless of their lack of “benefits across a number of outcomes”, as Fiona Hyslop puts it, the quality of Rembrandt’s work is arguably higher than anything before or since. Forget “the social value of museums and galleries” – go and see it and marvel.
(Dr) Mary Brown