I've been meaning to link to the AAMD's statement regarding their imposition of sanctions on the Berkshire Museum and the La Salle University Art Museum.
It's a really good instance of the phenomenon Michael Rushton talked about here: it just states their policy as if it's self-evident; there's no real effort made to explain why the policy makes sense.
All the work is done (to the extent any work is done) in the second paragraph:
"AAMD has a long-standing policy that restricts the use of funds obtained through deaccessioning to the acquisition of works of art. Selling art to support any need other than to build a museum’s collection fundamentally undermines the critically important relationships between museums, donors and the public. When museums violate the trust of their donors and the public, they diminish the opportunity and responsibility to make great works of art available to the public. This hurts the individual institution and affects the museum field as a whole."
The first sentence just asserts the policy. The second sentence is the closest we get to an explanation or defense of the policy, so let's take a close look at it. The key move, the stolen base, the sleight of hand, is the sneaky introduction of the "other than": Selling art to support any need other than to build a museum's collection fundamentally undermines (not just undermines, fundamentally undermines). But where does that particular "other than" come from? Couldn't we just as easily slip anything we want in there? Selling art to support any need other than keeping the museum from going out of business. Selling art to support any need other than providing expanded access to the museum's collection. Selling art to support any need other than attracting the most talented curators. Selling art to support any need other than changing the museum's mission. Selling art to support any need other than paying legal fees. Why does "to build a museum's collection" get to be the only "other than"? How did that happen?
Again, it's just what Rushton calls attention to: what they're really saying here, in their big, public statement on this big, public matter, is: We have a policy. To violate that policy fundamentally undermines. It's just circular; it's no explanation at all. This was the best they could do?
Nor is there any explanation of how those "critically important relationships" are (fundamentally) undermined. It's just another empty assertion.
The third sentence pivots to talking about "violating the trust" of the donors and the public -- but where did that come from? What trust? How is it violated when a museum sells art for one purpose but not for the big "other than" purpose? And what if selling art in a particular case expands the opportunity to make great works of art available to the public -- again by, for example, subsidizing or eliminating admission fees, or keeping the museum open longer hours, or keeping a financially troubled museum from closing its doors for good?
Or, what about the Ellis Rule? What if a small museum in the Berkshires sells art to a museum in Los Angeles? Has that diminished the opportunity to make great works of art available to the public, or expanded it? Won't more people get to see it in Los Angeles?
Are they even trying any more?
The paragraph concludes with: "This" -- referring, I guess, to the diminishment of the opportunity and responsibility to make great works of art available to the public -- "hurts the individual institution and affects the museum field as a whole." Yes, we mustn't do anything that could "affect" the museum field as a whole. That's always unethical. You never want to affect the museum field as a whole.
I've said before that they need better talking points. But really what they need is a better policy.