Friday, February 11, 2011

Because we say so, that's why (UPDATED)

One way of looking at disputes like the one around the University of Iowa Pollock is as a clash of values.

On one side, you have the Art Lobby -- the people who think it's more important to keep the painting than to have $150 million in additional scholarship money.

On the other side, you have the Education Lobby -- the people who would rather have the scholarship money than the painting.

What the Art Lobby side wants to do, rather than defend, or argue for its position, is to appeal to some meta-principle -- Thou Shalt Not Sell Art -- that settles the debate. They never have to explain why it's better to keep the painting than have the additional scholarship money. They just point to their meta-principle and say, "see, it's unethical to do what you want to do. Case closed."

And then, to take it a step further, they appeal to groups like the AAMD and the AAM, who naturally oppose the sale, but that's because they are part of the Art Lobby side. The AAMD is not some neutral arbiter of the competing claims here. It's one of the claimants.

If you think it's better for the university to keep this painting than to have an additional $150 million in scholarship funds, that's fine. Explain why. Argue for it. Defend it. But appealing to the "authority" of the AAMD adds nothing to the debate.

UPDATE: Right on cue, here they come, adding nothing to the debate.