Quick post today.
I think one of the best things about museums are the tiny moments that often are unaccounted for.
While the benefits- economic, intellectual, spiritual, healing, etc- of museums are becoming more well known, these tiny moments can get lost when trying to convince someone that museums or art and culture really matter. Of course the big picture matters. But so do these tiny, individual, personal moments. The ones that are so personal maybe no one else connects with a museum or object in that way. And I love to witness, or experience, those types of moments. They can birth awe, wonder, disgust, understanding, or just recognition of oneself in something that is 2000 years old.
Today I was at the British Museum’s Egypt: Faith After the Pharaohs Exhibition, and witnessed one such moment. I overheard a woman, while looking at a child’s tunic, and a child’s striped sock, tell the person she was with that she was using the exact same stitch in a project she was working on to give someone for Christmas. Here’s an object, around 2000 years old, and here is a person, now, seeing herself and completely identifying with that object. And doing so in a completely different way than I might, or the couple with the toddler in tow, or the two men who seemed to be having a business meeting in the exhibition… While the overarching themes of the exhibition were obviously there, we each have personal moments and connections with different objects in different ways. This is what I love. Museums are not just about history and timelines. They are about personal, human connections, through space and time, across cultures and religions.
Another museum moment from a few weeks ago: I was at the Sir John Soane Museum, in the picture room, when a school group came in. There were also several adults in the room, and everyone was discussing the paintings they could see on the walls (including some Hogarths and Canaletto’s). Within a few moments, the staff member in the room began to reveal its secrets- there are many, many more paintings hidden behind panels that open up. It was amazing to be there as these panels were slowly opened and everyone realized what was happening- and a collective gasp of surprise and wonder was heard from all.
Just two of, I’m sure, many museum moments I’ve experienced, and what I would encourage everyone to look out for, and to be open to. Look for those moments of surprise and wonder, from a child, or an adult, and try and look at an object from a more personal perspective. Maybe you won’t identify with a sock, but you might identify with something else.
What about you? Any museum moments you’ve witnessed, or experienced yourself? Whether a surprise personal connection, or a complete sense of wonder?
As an aside, I highly recommend the Egypt Exhibition. It’s very well done, and a good exploration of the intersection of multiple faiths and cultures, and some truly stunning artifacts. Stunning in the sense of gold and shiny, and stunning as in immense sense of history- earliest complete gospels, sections of gospels of Mary and Thomas, beautiful textiles, and so much more. Very interesting, and coincidentally, great timing. The exhibition highlights the similarities and differences among the 3 Abrahamic religions- Judaism, Christianity, Islam- and hopefully will help promote understanding and tolerance.
If you can’t make it in person, you can visit via Google: https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/u/0/exhibit/egypt-faith-after-the-pharaohs/IQJS2q6UTAaFJg
The Museum also has a youtube channel with a few videos about the exhibition: