Saturday 11 July 2020

The "threat" of museologists

In his book “The constructivist museum”, George Hein quotes Edward Forbes (a British naturalist) who in a 1853 lecture said that curators may be prodigies of learning, and yet unfit for their posts, if they do not know anything about pedagogy, if they are not equipped to teach people who know nothing.

Years later, in 1909, one of my greatest inspirations, Newark Museum director John Cotton Dana said that “A good museum attracts, entertains, arouses curiosity, leads to questioning and thus promotes learning. (...) The Museum can help people only if they use it; they will use it only if they know about it and only if attention is given to the interpretation of its possessions in terms they, the people, will understand”. And it was in 1917 that he wrote: “Today, museums of art are built to keep objects of art, and objects of art are bought to be kept in museums. As the objects seem to do their work if they are safely kept, and as museums seem to serve their purpose if they safely keep the objects, the whole thing is as useful in the splendid isolation of a distant park as in the centre of the life of the community which possesses it. Tomorrow, objects of art will be bought to give pleasure, to make manners seem more important, to promote skill, to exalt handwork, and to increase the zest of life by adding to it new interests.” (both quotes come from Reinventing the Museum: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Paradigm Shift” by Gail Anderson).