The man studying this painting so closely, from inches away — he’s not just a casual observer, or he wouldn’t be so close. What is he looking for? The picture is a seascape, with sailboats; so possibly he’s looking at some detail of the boat’s equipment. Or maybe he’s a painter himself, and is examining the brush technique of the artist. Who knows? Anyway, he’s not disturbing anyone. He can stare at the picture all day if he wants to.
The fact is that this painting and thousands more, plus photographs, statues, carpets, and suits of armor, are on display here for anyone who wants to look at them, for any reason, free of charge. This is the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., U.S.A. — and there are museums like this in cities all over America. There’s nothing “nationalistic” about these collections. They contain famous works from all over the world.
Most of the paintings in these museums were given to them by rich families from their own personal collections, or were purchased by the museums with money they donated. They gave paintings and money to the museums to make great works available to the public; but also, in competition with other rich families, they gave to increase their own prestige as patrons of the arts.
If, for example, the Kennedy’s were to give a museum a painting worth ten million, The Rockefellers might give a bigger painting, worth twenty million, to show the Kennedys who was The Boss. Childish, but the public benefits.
Nothing like this happens here. It’s not that there are no rich families in the Philippines. It’s just that most rich people here are not interested in donating to the arts; it’s not their style, they would gain no prestige with other rich families from it; and in most cases they don’t know enough about art to do it intelligently, even if they wanted to. So the country suffers not only from economic poverty, but from cultural poverty as well.
Perhaps this man in the National Gallery will be inspired to produce a painting of his own. Or maybe not. But he can hardly fail to gain something in spirit from his visit, surrounded as he is by the greatest works that the human race is capable of producing. And it costs him nothing. It’s a gift, from those who can afford to give.