Tuesday, May 05, 2009

On Repulsiveness

In a post last night, I noted that, in his response to the interim report of the Future of the Rose Committee, Christopher Knight had asserted, without argument, that it is ethically "repulsive" to sell art and use the proceeds to pay for university expenses.

Brandeis philosophy professor Jerry Samet, the chair of the Committee, noticed the same thing, and responded in the comments to Knight's post:

"You say:

"'Yes, legally it is quite possible to sell museum art and pay the university's bills with the income. Ethically, however, it's repulsive.'

"As the chair of the Committee whose report you discuss, I have to ask:

"Can you explain what exactly is repulsive about it? If you replace '... and pay the university's bills' in your condemnation with a real description of what those bills are FOR--eg: '... and provide scholarships to students whose families are suddenly unable to afford the tuition' or '... and pay professors instead of canceling courses and cutting back programs', and so on, perhaps you'll rethink your judgment.

"If you STILL think it's repulsive, then you owe your readers an explanation of how you've arrived at this moral view. Is it your view that selling art to do ANYTHING in the world except buy more art is morally repulsive???"

Knight responds by updating his post to include "a few links to past articles on the subject [of deaccessioning practices] for new readers," but I don't see anything that remotely supports a claim of repulsive-ness (in fact, one of the three links is to his "deaccessioning is not a dirty word" piece, which claimed that deaccessioning is "actually a routine feature of prudent museum management," which, "[w]hen done with care and skill," "benefits current and future generations of museum-goers"). Nor do I see in any of those links an answer to Samet's direct question: is it the case that selling art to do ANYTHING in the world except buy more art is morally repulsive?