Controversial Cleaning

Cleaning art to make it clearer alters the work in a way some find unacceptable. “If one were to suggest that a Bach Cantata should be transposed and reconstructed to make it ‘listenable’ to a wide audience, many would find the proposition unacceptable. The same might be said of remaking T. S. Elliot’s ‘Wasteland’ so that the poem would become ‘understandable’ to neophytes and school children. The situation surrounding a painting from the past is rather different in one crucial aspect, however. Re-writing Bach’s musical score for a new redaction or Elliot’s poetic structure for another less complex one does not affect the original text. The correct, uncorrupted text is still there and can always be consulted. Such is not the case with a painting which has been made more readable. The restoration operation requires that making the object more readable be conducted on the original, unique and only text itself.”