Sunday, February 28, 2010

Les Musées

Museum: n. A building, place, or institution devoted to the acquisition, conservation, study, exhibition, and educational interpretation of objects having scientific, historical, or artistic value. [L mūsēum place sacred to the Muses, building devoted to learning or the arts (referring esp. to the scholarly institute founded in Alexandria about 280 b.c.)

The Muses were the daughters of Mnemosyne, a Titan who was the deification of memory. These nine (or three) daughters of memory are typically known for being in charge of art, but they actually had domains in history, science, literature, drama, music (which name comes from 'muse'), etc. The Muses taught Hesiod to sing and Homer asks them to tell the tale of Odysseus. Whenever someone working in any of these branches was about to create, he or she would invoke the name of the Muses to guide them in their work.
Painting of a Muse, probably Erato, guiding Hesiod the poet.

It is interesting to me that the Muses are the daughters of Memory, for it is through memory that we learn everything and anything. It is very fitting that museums should be named after these nine sisters, as museums today house objects that are generally derived from these branches of culture, and are places where we can learn many things that are essential to living full, educated lives.

It is sad, then, that so many people today do not see the relevance of museums. Take, for example, the thoughts of a girl who was lucky enough to visit the British Museum (taken from said museum's website):
"Everywhere you look there's
old artifacts no one has seen before
but what they forget is that its so old
its not important! I feel like we should
focus on important things like life
and what we are doing NOW!"
When I heard this, I was shocked. I then read it to my brother, who proceeded to say, "Yeah, I agree." This shocked me even more, and even saddened me a bit, because he and I had nearly the same exposure to the past and its importance as children, but somehow got lost along the way. I may have a biased point of view, working in a museum and majoring in the study of ancient cultures, but I sincerely believe that without learning about those who have come before us, even if we are not related to them, greatly expands our knowledge and understanding of the way people have lived, do live, and will live. It increases compassion and empathy for others in ways it is difficult to describe. For example, I am very interested in the way certain societies have been able to live off of the land, growing closer to it and treating it with respect. I feel that we can all learn a great deal from these people, who might be long gone.

I can provide numerous quotes on the importance of learning from the past. Not only can we foresee possible outcomes in certain situations (the whole "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it" concept), but it also makes us better individuals. Humans are the only living organisms blessed with obvious self-awareness and an ego, which makes us want to better ourselves indefinitely. And we should! People always talk about how they want to be "cultured," exposing themselves to art, plays, music, etc. But what they sometimes fail to realize is that if they skip over learning about human past, not just history (because humans also exist outside of history, which is defined as the recorded past-- some cultures do not or did not have written records) they greatly deficit themselves in knowledge.

I searched everywhere for a really good quote that might crystallize the point I'm trying to get across, and the closest I could find was one by some author I'd never heard of in some book I'll probably never read:

"No matter how much time has passed, these things still affect us and the world we live in. If you don't pay attention to the past, you'll never understand the future. It's all linked together."
— Sarah Dessen, Just Listen

I think that many times we will, such as the case with my brother, be exposed to museums and their goodness as children, but as we grow older, we forget that learning about these sorts of things is important. At the Museum of Peoples and Cultures, where I work, really the only visitors we get are Cubscouts or private school groups. Why is it that this type of learning has become extracurricular? I think that, in this world so fixed on math, business, and physical science (What? The Space Race is over you say?) it is even more important that museums be visited and history and culture be taught, and not just to our youth. This obvious lack of care for museums is evident in the museums on the BYU campus. The only museum that really gets any attention is the Museum of Art, and this is probably only because it has the most money and a classy-ish cafe on the second floor. The Life Science Museum gets visited by people who want to laugh at weird stuffed animals. The Paleontology Museum is a bit of a joke amongst the geology department (most people don't even realize that the study of dinosaur bones is even part of geology-- another oversight). And the Museum of Peoples and Cultures' existence is often forgotten, at least by 98% of the students on campus (I can't speak for the staff). It is sad that the MPC has been so neglected, especially financially, that certain bathrooms have to be used for material storage, that the building is so old that humidity and light conditions are difficult to control in certain areas, and that certain of the staff gets paid less than what they might get paid elsewhere on campus (not me-- I'm happy with my wage). Despite all of this, however, the staff is dedicated to their work, and try to make it interesting and even fun for anyone that might wander in.

With all of this, I hope that you will start visiting museums more often, especially smaller ones that might be struggling to get by, or at least learn to appreciate their existence or significance a bit more.

Post Script: I want to know your opinion! Do you agree or disagree? Did I get something wrong? Tell me all.


LP said...

Interesting post! I learned something, and that's always good. I have several comments:

1. Sarah Dessen writes chick lit for teens.
2. I have to think Ian was partly kidding. Everything in deep space is way older than stuff in museums. Besides, if that's how he really feels, then I see no need in the future for him to visit the British Museum or the Louvre or the Smithsonian.
3. I think you're right; I think people should go more often to museums. I think part of the problem attendance drops off as you get older is that you start thinking "Well, I saw that when I was 5 or 12, so I don't need to go back." Part of the responsibility lies with the museum in making their exhibits worth repeated trips. Some museums get it right, some don't. I suppose a lot of the reason behind whether they put forth effort is related to funding.
4. That chick in the BM is silly. Someone just needs to explain to her how people in the past are different/the same. Or maybe she should read Sarah Dessen's book.
5. I'm still not going to visit the Gem and Mineral Museum.

LP said...

"I think part of the problem attendance drops off" should be either "I think part of the reason attendance drops off" or "I think part of the problem with attendance dropping off".

Shannon said...

would you change your mind about the gem and mineral museum if I told you they had rocks that glowed?

eric and adrien said...

well, you know how i feel about this of course :)
stupid british museum girl. at least she elicited a blog post from you.
and mom, i kind of don't think ian was kidding...sadly.

Jared and Megan said...

Maybe Ian was looking at it differently. Although, really, what way could one possibly be looking at it to say something like that??

Otherwise, I just don't know what to say. I could agree with Elizabeth from P&P and say that 'the more I see of the world, the more I am dissatisfied with it' (although she says that at a point in the plot where she may not really believe it later... but that's up for discussion)

Or I could say that I agree with Holden Caulfield to a point - I think when he said everyone was a phony he was giving some people too much credit.

Yammer yammer yammer. You know what I mean, right?