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Why Art?

Thomas Horsfall believed in the wholly transformative quality of beauty, and that art and nature could help give meaning and pleasure to people's lives. As he wrote in his initial proposal for "An Art-Gallery for Manchester" in 1877, "As there is undeveloped good in all people, noble or not ignoble art, art which seeks to give more perfect form to that which stirs the better part of our nature, can help most people." Indeed, for Horsfall, as for John Ruskin and William Morris, the separation of art and nature from daily life was part of the unhealthiness of modern life. "If Art can raise the life of a people, we know too well that its aid is needed in Manchester. For though the life of a steady workman here is less full of anxiety than was that of a Florentine in the great art-age, it is probably more miserable and has fewer moments of gladness in it." Art could train workers to see their world differently, and find greater pleasure in the countryside; art could change even the way cities grew. "If we make the people care deeply for beautiful places -- so deeply that they abstain from lessening their beauty, perhaps their new love will make us, in our turn, abstain from spoiling them with smoke from manufactories and hideous buildings." Transformations in art itself, in nature, and in ideas about both, made this work possible.