Should art be good for you?

We posed this and the other four key Great British Art Debate questions to our keen debate fiends over on facebook. Here are some of their thoughts:

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…

– Martin Myrone, Tate Curator

Not to pull a Bill Clinton, but it probably depends on the meaning of “good”.  I think the problem most people have with a lot of modern art is that it doesn’t seem to be saying anything at all, good or bad.

– EL, Facebook

Art must trigger emotions, creativity and reflection. These things learn us something about ourselves and the people around us, as well as society. So yes, art is good for you.

– KdV, Facebook

What do you think?

Posted on by Hannah Flynn
Filed under Questions

About Hannah Flynn

Hannah Flynn is E-Learning Assistant for Tate and Co-Ordinator for the Great British Art Debate online. Her favourite British artist is John Martin.


  1. All art is good for you, anything that stimulates an emotion be it negative or positive has to be in some way good for you, art allows you to learn a little bit more about yourself than you knew before viewing the art.

  2. i really don’t like the word ‘should’ so i reject the question!

  3. If art doesn’t have the style of an individual, it’s not good.
    The way that VanGogh painted Gaugin’s chair can be compared to the Keith Haring style; both are unique.

  4. Art is good for for us in a sense of it being historical. It’s good for us because it teaches us about a past…a time long gone but thanks to art never forgotton. Art is like what photographs are like to us today. How good does it feel when you see an artwork in the flesh after years seeing and reading about it. Just stood there inches from a masterpiece. Art is good because art is emotion,conflict,rumour and debate all at the same time.

  5. I thought art was truth … truth through the muse, truth through the spirit and through the hand (or body). Can this be good for you – of course. Can it be bad – absolutely.

  6. Art should be a infinite number of things, as much like two snowflakes are never the same, two people’s reactions to art may be completely different, or very similar but never the same. Art should be (insert adjective here) for you.

  7. Art is not good or bad, fine or ugly…
    Art does not aim to be good for us. It is subjective and selfish. Art itself does not lead the community but reveals the deepest and buried feelings, stimulates the senses.
    Art the is source of the life
    When you see “ART” you feel excited and satisfied.

  8. It’s probably telling that pleasure and benefit (the “good for you” part) are perceived to be separate categories. I tend to think that the best art is “transformative” in some way. The act of seeing (or to be slightly less passive, “looking”) creates a shift in the triangulation that occurs between work, world and viewer–a shift that is usually almost imperceptible to the beholder, but which on rare occasion can be overwhelming. And as Aristotle so sensibly notes, change can be either very pleasant or terribly unpleasant. Viewing art is of course not the most direct or effective path toward changing the world (arguably, neither is making art), but it can be a powerful experience, and perhaps anything that opens up the possibility of change–that keeps one’s mind flexible–is beneficial.

  9. Good art pioneers great thought but does good thought create good art? Art is perceived through culturally and socially constructed notions of how we, as indivuduals, experience the art, Therfore, I find it hard to think of art in terms of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ – Art isn’t made to be ‘good’ for everyone; it should inspire thoughts of Great, or Excellent, or Harrowing, and experienced differently by different people in diverse contexts. No, Art shouldn’t be good for you directly, but its implications ought to energise and inspire.

  10. Art is perspective, the chance to swap your own for someone else’s, to see the world as they see it, in ways that may be so anathema to your own that you never thought you could see things in that way but for a moment you glimpse it as another does and when you come back to yourself then your view has been enriched and is never the same again, that is A Reality Twist! That is ART.

  11. Art should make us question everything about our lives today. The emotional response should not be tears because the picture shows death or destruction but a political one to ask ourselves why is this happening and what are we doing? If art is purely pleasureable and evokes no debate then it has failed.

  12. Art is good for you because it connects you to the non-verbal, sometimes irrational sublime…which is the wholeness of health, self and humanity. Long live Art.
    Personal favorites: music, painting and couture. Of course classical/jazz music.

    Ps. Would love to go to the exhibit!:).

  13. It’s not a question of what art ‘should’ be, and what it ‘should’ give us. You simply need to look at the effect art has on you and the people around you, and around art. Go look at art, and look at the people responding to it – I guarantee you’ll find a mixture of emotions. From cackles of laughter to frowning discussions; from “but-is-it-art?” rage to a smile and a kiss… Emotions are good for you, and art gives you emotions. By the bucket load!

  14. This world needs positive energy from art, I think is more easy to make confronting art than to make art that can transform a human being into a more natural state. I think thats very important for changing the world into a better place to live.

  15. Art should give us emotions and make us think. Good, bad, wet, dry, who cares as long as it is really art?

  16. ‘Art is not always good for you, that’s why Art is good for you’

  17. I used to be a ruthless gallery-goer. I’d walk past things disapprovingly and if they didn’t catch my eye, well, that was the end of that. Then I discovered a wonderful mantra from the late John Cage:

    “The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem to be beautiful is why do I think it’s not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.”

    I always keep this in mind, and whenever I see something i’d usually walk past, I make a point of noticing it. In the fast-paced world we live, stopping and seeing more beauty in everything is surely something that is good for us all?

  18. It is not a question of should art be good for you – that is like asking should science be good for you. It is what it becomes – it is limited only by our imagination. Art is the expression of our imagination – it can be both rational and irrational. Philosophy is our imagination rationalised. Science is philosophy proven. If art nurtures our imagination and philosophy considers what we imagine to a mature state of reason and Scientist make reasonable reality, is art not the origin of all human endeavour? The greatest scientist in the last century acknowledged the importance of imagination when he stated –
    “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
    - Albert Einstein

  19. Art is unquestionably good for you, even if it hurts.

  20. Yes I would say that art ‘should be good for you’ on many levels, be they viewing, experiencing or contributing. There is always an emotional shift, be it a positive or negative one. To be stimulated is a positive force, therefore by default, art ‘should be good for you’.

  21. No, art should be good for art.

  22. Art, in essence, is all about exploration – and this is never always ‘good for you’. I think, as long as some emotion is generated, art can never truely be bad for you, even if you hate it.

  23. I believe art is good for you, both good for the person creating the art and for the person who appreciates that art.

    Art also has many meanings and depths for individuals; there is no rhyme or reason.

  24. I am an avid consumer of art, and have thought deep and wide over the years why that is and what art means to me personally. Brutal as it may sound, only one of the answers I’ve come up with makes any sense: it is a proxy for sex. So, yes, art is good for me because I haven’t been exceedingly lucky with the ladies.

  25. I think art is one of those few chances we have in life to come across ideas and views that might completely disagree with our expectations, preferences, values and understanding of how things should be. everything around us is designed or to simply please us or to manipulate with us. I think it’s extremely wrong when people step in front of art expecting from it exactly what they want it to be. I think it’s wrong to stand in front of art trying to look for those things you want to find in an artwork. it not only leads to misunderstandings but it leads to completely missing out the most valuable experience that is capable of giving us. of course the problem is not just in the viewer but it’s in the artists as well. so often the artists don’t really create art but common visual and thinking patterns. it’s a much higher chance that what you are looking at is indeed a meaningful artwork when you are completely disgusted by it than it would be the case if you were enjoying it. so in this sense I would say no, art shouldn’t be good to you but that’s what is actually good for you.