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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Be the kind of person who goes to museums, but then go somewhere real instead.

We all admire the kind of person who goes to museums. They are well-educated and focused. They care about their children's education. They have the right priorities.

There is only one problem. Museums are dead.

Schedule the same time. Prepare the same way. But go somewhere real instead. Go to a construction site. Or a hospital. Or a state-house. Or a police station. Or a farm.

You may have to spend more time. You will not be spoon-fed any anointed pieces of culture. But you will learn more about how the world really works, rather than a highly edited, sanitized, and curated static presentation of a committee's view of the past.

Having said that, here are two exceptions.

First, if someone genuinely loves the content provided in a museum, go there. In fact, go there everyday. Live there.

Second, museums are better than a classroom lecture. So between the two, take the museum.

Museums may just be the vitamin manufacturers of the cultural world. They offer predictable super-concentrations of seemingly self-evident value in a way that promises to meet (and thus off-load) needs of individuals. But just as people would do better to eat real fruit and fresh vegetables, so to might exposure to (and stewardship of) richer history and lifestyles in real and relevant contexts better serve the individual and the community.

5 comments:

  1. Why pit existing systems against museums? Can't we view both as real and valuable? What happens when the dozers unearth bones and old foundations from an old church cemetery at the construction site? In my view the construction site, the history of the land it disturbs, the bones, the folks who analyze the bones, the curators and the artists who design the exhibits are all real. I think we can enjoy museums without worshiping them (unless we want to) and museums can be understood by kids as having been designed by imperfect adults who were/are products of their times.

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  2. Museums also use fakes!

    However, Bristol museum (our local one) is good because it is free to enter, and a nice place to *be*

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  3. What a great post. I've been thinking about this subject lately as it relates to our habits. We've become a culture of watchers. Let's go to the art museum and then GO HOME AND MAKE ART. Let's watch a soccer game on TV and then GO OUT IN THE YARD AND GET GRASS STAINS.

    I think the point here is not to avoid anything with "Museum" over the door. I think the point is to expand beyond it in the way we learn, and teach, and experience the world.

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  4. I know this post is going to bother a lot of people, and to some degree myself included. (Marjory, I admire your restraint!) Certainly the role that museums play is critical to understanding and preserving our culture, and none more so than local museums. Yet heavily curated content in general and the curricula covered in museums, as with many schools, represent the intellectual equivalent of processed nostalgic "comfort food" (especially for the adults) in so many cases. The challenge increasingly is going to be to find ways to understand contemporary workings and engage in meaningful work.

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