In an ideal world, I would want all of Eakins' art in our city, where it would be readily accessible to everyone. But choices must be made about what to do with the sums available to support arts and culture. Eakins' own painting should inspire us to make better use of such funds. The work's depiction of a bloody operation was bold in its time; we must be bold in our thinking about arts spending.
We waste resources when we raise a fortune simply to keep a piece of art in a particular location. The painting will be a significant part of our city's cultural history no matter where it is housed. Instead, we should look to build anew, spending to maintain the development of our city's culture rather than merely preserving its past.
The decision to sell The Gross Clinic is an expression of an elitist ideology that commodifies art as well as overlooks its viability as an integral part of public spaces. I have created art for public spaces for the last 35 years. I admit my bias.
There are those who recognize that art is not only for the halls of museums, the walls of galleries, or the homes of the rich. Art can provide richness and personality to public spaces. The presence of art in a hospital environment adds to its healing atmosphere, underscoring how wide of the mark is Robert Barchi, Jefferson Hospital president, who said: "We're not a museum. We're not in the business of art education."
The hospital is in the business of human healing. Art humanizes an environment. It is a salute to the creative spirit that is a message of hope for all those who inhabit the space: the staff as well as the patients. Also, selling this particular painting is giving away a civic treasure, a bridge to Philadelphia's cultural history.