Any way you want it, that’s the way you need it…
This week I have done a lot of thinking about the pros and cons to making museums and cultural institutions more interactive. Initially I was all rah-rah-rah interactive exhibits!!!
Then I was just like… wait a second.
I am a very visual learner. I love to be able to interact with things, be as hands-on as possible, and experiment with new ideas. However, this is not for everyone. Some people do not like to make, or do not consider themselves makers; we read an entire article about it this week (Chachra, 2015). And this caused me to pause for a minute. I lived in New York City for four years. Four glorious years that I was surrounded by all sorts of stimulating cultural experiences and museums, in different parts of the city, with different types of venues, and that would attract different varieties of audiences. And that is exactly the point. Being DIFFERENT.
Personally, I do not like museums. Not really at all. I find them boring and static. However, that does not mean I do not understand their value. I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art while I lived in NYC, and I was floored by the sheer size and volume of what they had. While I was impressed, that does not mean I loved every minute of it; I went there with my dorm and we did a scavenger hunt, then got to browse the museum. The scavenger hunt was awesome. The browsing lost my interest. I also went to the American Museum of Natural History as part of an anthropology class I was taking. We got the day off from lecture and had a scavenger hunt of questions to take with us while we visited a couple of exhibits. Again, I loved it! But then when I finished I felt obligated to spend more time browsing, and again got bored. My point here is that for both of these experiences, I needed a scavenger hunt to be engaged, and when left to browsing alone, I was bored out of my mind. A friend and I took a trip to the Cloisters, and when we were doing solitary browsing, I, shockingly, was again bored. But when I looked over to find my friend, she was completely immersed in the exhibits. The very static, very boring-to-me exhibits. And that helped me realize that she and I had different ways of looking at art, and at experiences.
When I traveled back to the city a few months ago, I stopped in at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) for the first time. Parts of it were interesting, but I definitely did not stay there nearly as long as people I was passing in exhibits, who would just stare and stare and stare at one painting. I personally don’t see the appeal, but that’s just me.
Dobrzynski’s (2013) article really hit home with me this week. She says
“In ages past, art museums didn’t need activating. They were treasure houses, filled with masterpieces meant to outlast the moment of their making, to speak to the universal. Visiting one might be social — you went with friends — but fairly passive. People went to see beauty, find inspiration, experience uplift, sometimes in a spiritual sort of way.”
I’ve come to realize that I agree. Not everyone goes to a museum to participate. There is a time and a place for that, and that is fine. For me, and many others, that is better or even necessary to get them in the door of a museum. But not always. Some people want to go and browse and gaze and study, and can spend hours at museums like the Met and the Cloisters. Others prefer to go somewhere much more interactive, like the Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle, that I wrote about at the beginning of the class. You can touch and play with the exhibits, and even create your own content. That is important, and even necessary. However, with this move toward everything being participatory, everything being interactive, don’t we start to lose the individuality that was originally created by having different exhibits and appealing to different audiences? I think we might. If every museum is increasingly interactive, what’s going to interest me in going to Museum B, when Museum A is just as interactive? This move to the interactive “changes the very nature of museums” (Dobrzynski, 2013). Not always for the better. By not offering a multitude of choices and variety within the museum world, even the library world, or beyond, are we not automatically excluding those who are uninterested in that type of experience? The more everyone moves toward making and creating in their spaces, the more sameness we start to see. Are we not leaving someone out who wants to go just to enjoy the beauty, rather than be thrust into creating something? I think that maybe we are, and that sometimes the art, or the exhibits, need to speak for themselves.
Chachra, D. (2015, January 23). Why I am not a maker. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/01/why-i-am-not-a-maker/384767/
Dobrzynski, J. H. (2013, August 10). High culture goes hands-on. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/opinion/sunday/high-culture-goes-hands-on.html?_r=1