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‘I wrote my thesis because it seemed incredible that a nineteenth century cleric could believe that paintings had the power to civilise his community of London’s poorest. Yet that is what he did believe and his ideas were exported round the world. I still don’t know whether he was right…’ Frances Borzello
What is the purpose of art? Aside from aesthetic considerations, does it have socio-political functions? Art critic Frances Borzello reflected on this in her doctoral thesis, later expanded for publication in 1987 as Civilising Caliban. Therein she traced a link between Victorian-era exhibitions mounted for Whitechapel’s poor by Anglican vicar Samuel Barnett to the munificent post-war patronage of the Arts Council. In a new preface to this edition Borzello reflects on how the idea of ‘art for all’ has fared – along with the questions of who pays for it and what good it achieves.
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