Tate Debate Banner image

This week’s Tate Debate is a guest question from the Great British Art Debate: Should art be good for you? Here’s what John Martin curator Martin Myrone had to say:

We regularly fall back on the idea of art-as-therapy - the expectation that going to a gallery, seeing some pictures, participating in ‘culture’, is a good thing to do - morally good, almost therapeutically good. I don’t get this, never have – it’s not that there isn’t pleasure to be had in going to see an exhibition or visit a gallery, far from it, there’s plenty to enjoy. But the assumption that the experience is good for you, even health-giving, I think is wrong – even dangerous. It distracts us from what was really going on behind so many of the pictures which hang in our national galleries. In the context of British art, it takes us away from the much more challenging, intersting, exciting stories about British culture and history – the questions that really, really, matter…

And here’s what one of our GBAD fans, Bruce, had to say on the facebook discussion page:

Art can be good for you in health terms. Large scale, long-term studies in Sweden and America have shown statistically significant correlations between attending art galleries and health in older people, using indicators such as cancer mortality rates. (The work is published.) But there is a difference between saying art ‘can’ be good for you and art ‘should’ be good for you. That said, I sometimes think that the artistic community makes too much of the significance of art and the role of the artist in society. Encounters between an artwork and the viewer are necessarily individual. Art shouldn’t ‘have’ to be anything; artworks are out there and we experience them as we will.

What do you think?



I just have to say how good it is to participate in this expanding debate. We certainly do have the choice 'not to look', we vote with our feet in many aspects of our lives. To choose just one artist to demonise, Makouri, is a bit sad to me, but that's freedom of thought/choice/expression for you :) Good, isn't it? PS Remembering the furore of the '90's over the Hirst vitrines, and thinking to myself 'What the...?! Now am beside myself with excitement at going to Tate next year to see Shark & Thousand Years. Will I get that sharp intake of breath?

Felicity Giselle

I understand your reaction, however, it's good to be able to have the freedom of choice in expression. Though a contentious issue, I believe censorship in art is morally wrong. Damien Hirst's art for me provokes reaction and questions mortality and morality in contemporary society. You have the choice to not look as you may be already attune and sensitive to these issues, but please don't refute an individual's right for choice in any sphere.


I am always wary when I am told anything "should" be the case, especially when it's from an institutional employee regarding notions that are historical in nature. There is an allusion to historical "truths" that if one reads Tagg or Sekula one will realise are fallacious. That however, is another debate and a rather pompous one at that, forgive me I was having a "Critical Studies" moment. Art is whatever it is to the viewer in any given moment and may not relate at all to the intention of the author and in my book this is what makes it such a rich mode of communication.

John Ferngrove

Life is a journey, and for those lucky enough to have made the connection with art, then art becomes a subsidiary journey within the overall journey of life. As those parallel journies unfold, one brings one's life to the contemplation of art, and one's contemplation of art to life. The result is a dialectic of indefinite richness of meaning. One gets out of art what one is willing to put in. And what one gets out is nourishment of the self itself.

I've just been looking at Turner's painting of dead and dying negro slaves being thrown overboard from a ship into the sea. As I let myself really enter into the painting, not just the factual atrocity, but the aching beauty of the sky in which Turner places it, I found myself entering into an extended thought process comparing the moral climate of today with that of Turner's time. In the end I came back to thoughts of Turner himself. What were his intentions in painting such a thing? Could he have possibly known he would or intended to provoke such a thought process in someone's mind two hundred years or so later? Was such an experience good for me? Does it make me a better person? Questions like these are too simplistic. Art is a magic mirror into which we can look and see ourselves, society, ourselves in society, societies of other times and places, and ourselves in them. The permutations are endless. Art is part of living the good life.

Makouri Scott

Yes well I agree with Felicity in that one should never refute an individuals right to create or the right to view. The question is if its indeed appropriate to subject mass consciousness to certain visual themes or genres. We are confronted daily by questions of mortality and morality and so we learn that if we wish to feel depressed or angry we turn on the TV and watch the news. Do our children need to view the rotting head of a cow in a public gallery situation ... most certainly not. In terms of demonising a particular artist such hirst as suggested by Johanna well all I can say is that if the man had actually created any of the works by his own hand I would contemplate respecting certain works he so boldly attributes to himself. The fact is hirsts work is entirely overrated and his time has passed. Turners brilliant depictions of factual atrocity as noted by John Ferngrove are indeed timeless master pieces and worthy of the walls they so proudly hang.


It is interesting to hear more ideas on what we should or should not be allowed to view by Makouri. I also agree with Felicity about our right to view, pity that Makouri wants to blow that completely by then using the words 'is it appropriate'. Oh Dear! Also the history of art is surely peppered with artists who take ideas and elaborate,why not? To be be an apprentice and work alongside Rembrandt, da Vinci etc. was often the Holy Grail, and produced styles of the times. Ok, I admit it. There's lots of Hirst that I don't care for, I suspect he either doesn't care or would find find it sort of interesting why. He certainly wouldn't be sniffling into a tissue in the bogs over it. Nor would I. Why? Because he's made it chummy! The world has been reviled, taunted, amazed by this Rainmaker. Love/Hate - we can't get enough! He's such a 'has been' that Tate Modern have him for a full 6 months next year. As for kiddy views at least two of my pre teen grandchildren are clamouring to come with me next year to expand their thoughts on pickled sharks. Lovely stuff, and I fear we are ''Stuck'' with it my dear Makouri.


Art can make you, think, feel, want, need, laugh, cry, heal, hurt... it is a form of human expression and it can be very powerful or hardly noticed.


i'm convinced art is good because after you have experienced it as an artist or as a receiver you're not the same as before: evolution operates in you. i don't think art has anything to do with the compulsory idea that emanates form the word "should". in my case it just happens,it is a need. i can't conceive my life without going to museums&galleries&cinemas&concerts...otherwise i'd be a zombie or a rock. which leads me to the conclusion i'm sort of an addict. someone would come to me and ask me: and is it good to be addicted to art? well, i don't know and i don't care that much about it, as this addiction is a part of me and i don't see myself in terms of good or bad.


today everything is target-oriented.i suggest to practise usefulness for the sake of it and see what happens

Tracy Hunt

Art has always reflected the culture and time in which it is created, leaving a visual & historical record of the ideas, beliefs, social trends, surroundings, technological & scientific discovery, & development of mankind. The very first cross hatchings found in a piece of stone demonstrated conscious, creative thought had begun, and we carried on depicting what was around us, what we thought, felt and saw. What would we know about ourselves without it?


nenuphart,,,I like this, I like the flow and 'rockaddictIdontcare'feel. Art is what it is, a part of you. Neither good nor bad.

Felicity Giselle

The notion that art has to be morally uplifting for it's audience is a concept that has been around since the late 1800s with the opening of the first public museums. For the museum context art must serve a purpose for it's audience. Whether it is informative of culture, history, or social context, it serves to uplift the mind, engage one in debate or provoke critical enquiry, arts purpose in contemporary culture is defined by it's audience. Diversity is embraced within western contexts, if art provokes thoughful response in any frame of reference (subjective, cultural or structural) it's beneficial to it's society.

Damien Hirst

the problem is that these days art is supposed to be everything but art. I wouldn't be surprised if soon someone will start to wonder if art should also wash the dishes, help us stop smoking and walk our dogs. like if art was the only thing on the planet which is actually able to do something useful. the more we expect from art the less art we end up having. and that's the reality of the art today - we don't see much of it.


Art should evoke an emotional response and make one think. Conjuring positive and negative sensations correlating to dreamlike reverie, serene and blissful emotions and also can take one on a journey of to the dark, undefined, taboo or daunting depths of our unconscious. The act of reflecting oneself in art could aid in resonating suppressed emotion and thought encompassed in contemporary society. Art should liberate our thoughts. The journey of self discovery and self reflection encouraged by Art and the observer could only be good.


I'll teell you a story I heard in a conference with the artist Ettore Spalletti, in Milan: a lady who had been admitted to a hospital in Paris, said she saw the works of Spalletti when she was there and said to the artist that made ​​her feel very well and she considered herself cured also thanks to this. Is the power of colours, shapes, light,energy, in that one recognize oneself.

Georgina Lansbury

Hmm - good in what way and good for whom for starters. Also, I do not believe that art is created by artists desiring to do good - to create a feeling of well-being. That participation in art - the viewing of it - does contribute to someone's well-being is not intended but incidental. It's not why I go to galleries either. I go to be engaged, sometimes enraged - I don't always like what I see and sometimes I just love it. But it isn't like eating cabbage!


Art should make you think


I find the word ''should'' in the question a bit spooky.It brings to mind the despots throughout history who have decreed what is good for us or not, more often than not on a political basis. Today Art continues to evolve at quite a pace. It's interesting tho' that we still look for that something special. the sharp intake of breath, Beauty and/or the Beast. I am not a scholar of The Arts at all, but since my youth, I am old now, that gut feeling has always prevailed. But our tastes change. Our mind eye expands, thus when young I may have shunned the new and controvertial at times. Now - Bring it on, I'm up for giving anything a chance. Finally, 15 yrs ago I developed the same severe mental illness that beset my artist Aunt when she graduated from Hornsey Art College many years ago. If art is theraputic then someone should tell the Occupational Therapists I constantly evaded in hospital when being told it was good for me to sit and scribble art and paint jamjars. I tried to say it would raise my BP at least 10 points, and that a day in a gallery hung with Francis Bacon would really do it for me but this just met with blank looks. Art? It really is ''all in mind''.


"In the context of British art, it takes us away from the much more challenging, intersting, exciting stories about British culture and history - the questions that really, really, matter"

Aren't these questions a good thing and in fact good for us to ask? Art can be therapeutic and enjoyable but more frequently it begs us to examine, discuss, and question humanity and culture and the unfolding of those two things throughout history. Art does not "do" good it is good.

Yvette Porter Moore

I think that in the Art-doing is therapeutic to the one who created the art, more so than the one who goes into a gallery to look at Art-Masterpieces.

The artist who's art is on the gallery walls is conveying their mood and their thoughts and feelings at the time. I don't think people go to a gallery for therapeutic reasons. I believe they go because they love art, or are curious as to what are on the walls of the gallery.

I believe the question is, "Should Art be good to you?" I don't think necessarily because nothing is all good to all people. Art can covey various meanings, and I think good, bad or indifferent is all based on the individual.

From a non-artist critic

Niall Amore

All aesthetics and metaphysics aside. Last time I went to the tate, I left absolutely invigorated and with a different pair of eyes to look at the world through, it is a shame that you 'don't get this' And it is certainly healthy for an artists to express him or herself.


Art is a language without words. It allows as well as requires us to see with the "eye" and with the "I." By doing so, it opens doors between cultures, between different forms of spirituality, between people in general. It does not impose one interpretation, one understanding as versus another, rather it encourages us each to have our own vision. Art permits and encourages unity in diversity.

Craig Ineson

The two cent of one uneducated in art... Take with a pinch of salt... I could be wrong, but...

Martin Myrone may not "get" this mentality. But if people are coming into galleries because they believe it "can" or "is" good for them, then perhaps galleries are tapping into a demographic of people otherwise disinterested in art, per se.

If just 1% out of those people coming to a gallery for therapeutic reasons actually takes the time to consider "what was really going on behind so many of the pictures which hang in our national galleries", then that's 1% more than there previously was.

And if 99% don't: Well, nothing's lost. It keeps galleries open for those who really want to consider the art in detail.

Surely, that's a good thing?

Michael Cousin

Isn't it better that art never 'should' but only 'could'?

'Bad' art can be good for you and 'good' art can be bad, depends who you are and when you see it.

Susanna Whitman

I love it when art has a positive effect on me, or on others. It can be uplifting and inspiring to experience a work of art. But it isn't always so positive and I don't believe that it should be, nor that it should have to be. Works of art generally express something, often many things, and some works just appear to "be." When we decide morally that art must serve another end then we verge on it becoming propaganda. I believe that art must be able to serve its own ends and be created and able to exist in relative freedom.

Annette Coleman

Art is good for you because it makes you think outside of your world. It can be shocking or a pleasure or darn it, down right boring. Art can express what words can not and can help explain our lives. So get out and experience it, art can engage the viewer in a fuller life.

Makouri Scott

Subjecting mass consciousness at a National Gallery level to evil / demonic images / subject matter such as your "average" hirst [ extremely average ] is most certainly negative and damaging to our collective psyche ... who needs it ? No one .

Scott Hercher

The problem with much of the debate on this is that it is based on a should/could dichotomy. "Should art be good for us" or "can art be good for us" miss the point.

Art is good for us. nenuphart above hits the nail on the head by suggesting that the very fact that something is art makes it good for us. The fact that something is art means the receiver has considered the work at some level, even if it is only for a second to reject it out of hand, or register disgust at the subject of the work. The act of doing so means we have thought about the work and engaged ourselves, the art, and vicariously by extension, the artist, at a level we otherwise would not have.

Isn't thinking always good for us?

Célia Mallett

I have learned to think art as an aspect of the culture of a people or country. I lived in England for 6 years and attended classes on drawinng and painting, at Sir John Class School. On my way back to my country I enrolled for a Fine Arts degree and MA in Visual Arts, because I wanted to understand what Contemporary art was all about, at least to try. I think what makes art good for you is first of all because it is an expression of an individual as part of a country and culture, and this what eally matters.

Makouri Scott

so much for the Renaissance ...

Chloe Sencounter

As an artist, art should be good, if only for me. It provides a springboard - that I use to test myself, develop my skills and creatively challenge my ability to focus my ideas into an arrangement that expresses what's on my mind.

Ultimately art reminds us, at some level, what it is that we (as individuals and collectively as a society) value in life - and why.

Art might be here and now, from any point in history, or offering new ideals futuristically - this is why art is good for us.