Why are Museums so Uninspiring?

January 31, 2011

One of the things that even committed atheists tend to agree with religious people about is that religions do have some really great art, but militant atheists tend not to get too sentimental or nostalgic about this. If you love art but have no time for God, they tell you, remember that secular societies have developed their own, highly effective means of satisfying the artistic appetites once fed by the faiths – museums.

Alain de Bottonin this BBC – A Point of View article, argues that museums simply don’t do enough to inspire us and feed our souls…and if that weren’t enough he gets specific

Museums are notoriously bad at telling us why art matters. They vociferously insist on art’s significance and rally governments, donors and visitors accordingly. But they subsequently retreat into a curious, institutional silence about what this importance might actually be based on.

I think he’s correct in this assumption although I am tempted to say ‘it depends on the museum’ but generally speaking we aren’t invited to wonder with curators and artists about why the stuff really matters – rather it is assumed that art is a ‘good thing’ and if we don’t ‘get it’ then the problem lies with us rather than with the institution. I am deeply sceptical of ‘public education’ as a methodology for papering over the cracks of ill informed and poorly inspired leadership in the arts.  If the public has a problem with what you’re doing/showing/advocating then you have the problem not the public.  Museums as far as de Botton is concerned

should be a machine for putting before us pictures, photographs and statues that try to change us, that propagandise on behalf of ideas like kindness, love, faith and sacrifice. It should be a place to convert you.

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