Museums are like homeless people. The bigger the city, the more there are. Why do the biggest cities in the world have so many museums? Why does our species collectively spend so much money on building and maintaining museums? Why are museums important at all? (Image by Pexels)
These are some of the questions I will seek to answer in this article.
Museums are critical to our self-improvement. Creativity is human nature. Museums hold the sacred task of protecting and displaying the creative works of those who came before us. They curate the creative spirit of the human race and provide a space for us to appreciate and learn from the brightest creative sparks which have flashed past our history.
In this article I write about museums; why we should take the time to visit them and my recent experience in visiting the Franz Mayer Museum in Mexico City.
By the end of this article you will be inspired to make the time to visit a museum. Such experiences are priceless, yet so few of us actively make an effort to visit the museums which inhabit our home cities. Once we appreciate the value of museums, making time to visit them becomes second-nature.
That was the case for me, at least. Read on to discover the importance of museums!
Where Does The Word “Museum” Come From?
As always, we begin with definitions.
The word “museum” comes from the Greek “mouseion” which originally meant “a temple or shrine to the Muses”. The 9 Muses were the Greek goddesses of the arts, literature and science. They were the wellsprings of the knowledge communicated in poetry, lyrics, songs and myth. To be “inspired” to this day means to be “breathed upon” by one of these divine sources of knowledge. The word “music” comes from the Muses (Image from Wikipedia by Jastrow).
Knowing the divine connotations of the word museum allows us to see it under a similar light of meaning as did the Greeks. To the Greeks, the arts and sciences were of divine importance, they had a significance which transcended the mundane plane of our daily existence. To create art, write hymns and poems, record history and perform music was to commune with the gods.
Why would the Greeks hold the arts in divine esteem? Because to the Greeks, art was not only meant to be aesthetically pleasing, but also to represent true meaning.
The Greeks had the right of it.
Like I wrote in this article, engaging with art allows us to enter into a dialogue with the universe. It’s through this dialogue that the universe changes and evolves, through us. In this way, art evolves consciousness.
And what is one of the best places to engage with art during our time?
Museums: Transmitters Of Perspective
Museums are amazing. Like libraries, they are public venues which curate and make available vast troves of human knowledge and creativity. Both institutions require tremendous material and human resources to be operated. Only a complex society with solid institutions and administrative capabilities can support the continuous operation of museums and libraries.
Museums and libraries represent long term investments in communities. They empower people’s creativity so they may direct the change they wish to see in their worlds. More and more, they are becoming shapers of communities; actively engaging populations in dialogue and reclaiming public spaces.
Visiting a museum is like receiving an electric jolt to our awareness. We don’t feel it consciously, but as we walk around a museum’s exhibits and engage deeply with its contents, we broaden our perspective and deepen our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.
Museums showcase the works of creative masters. In a museum we plunge into a world of meaning. People make art of the things/people/ideas which are important to them. In a museum we learn about what was important to those who came before us. What did the artists care about? What were their loves? Their fears? Their values?
And how have we changed since then?
We take a journey to a foreign landscape of meaning and in so doing learn to see the world through the eyes of others. And that allows us to understand the world a little better.
My Recent Museum Experience
I recently visited the Franz Mayer Museum in Mexico City. It’s an inspiring space.
The museum is housed in a building dating back to the 16th century. The building went through several functional phases; it started out as “la Casa del Peso de la Harina” (the House of Flour Weighing), and from there went on to become a hospital which was run by “San Juan de Dios”, a religious order (image from Wikipedia, by Thelmadatter).
Today it serves as the venue for the Franz Mayer Museum.
I had never been to the Franz Mayer Museum before. Even though it’s only a 30-minute trip from my home in Mexico City, it had never occurred to me to visit it as a child or teenager.
It was only after I visited museums in the United States, Canada and Europe as a young adult that I learned to appreciate their value. It’s interesting that I had to travel outside of my home country and visit museums abroad to appreciate the museums in my home country.
The venue is beautiful, with high ceilings, and a colonial Spanish vibe. At its center is a square courtyard, typical of colonial Spanish architecture, with a garden intersected by a stone pathway and a fountain in the middle.
Accidentally, my visit was timed perfectly, as it was the opening day of the “Alexander Girard: A Designer’s Universe” exhibition.
Who Was Alexander Girard?
Alexander Girard was an American architect, interior, furniture and textile designer as well as an art collector. Girard was born in New York City in 1907, to an American mother and a French-Italian father. He was affectionately known as Sandro.
He was raised in Florence and was sent to the Bedford Modern School in England in 1917. There, he dedicated his free time to creating the Republic of Fife, a fictional country. He designed flags, maps, seals, postal stamps and even an alphabet and a language! All done with a rich pallet of colors and shapes.
Talk about having an active imagination! At that stage of my life I was dedicating all of my free time to watching television and playing video games.
But I digress…
From there, Girard went on to study architecture in London and Rome. He opened his first studio in New York in 1932.
Girard became one of the most influential interior and textile designers of the 20th century. In a time when sober and minimalist designs reigned, he introduced a new understanding of color and the creation of spaces through total design.
The exhibition showcased Girard’s work in four different fields:
- Interior design: color, patterns and textiles
- From corporate design to total design
- Collectionism and museography
- The spirit of popular art
What Happened To Me When I Engaged With The Exhibition
This is a point in the article where I would like us to pause for a moment. I invite you to read the second to last paragraph again. It perfectly exemplifies the mind-expanding properties of museums.
Can you see why?
Girard was a visionary. He saw beyond what was assumed, available at the surface level, and went beyond. He challenged conventional notions in design and boldly proposed his own creative alternatives.
He evolved design.
By standing there in the museum, appreciating his designs, I could get a tiny inkling of why it was that his work had been so impactful. His designs pop out at you, while complementing the entirety of the space which they inhabit (this is “total design”).
For a moment, I could appreciate why and how Girard stepped out of the conventional mold. I communed with his vision.
By appreciating the meaning that Girard sought to communicate with his work, my own sense of meaning evolved. My consciousness took a step forward; I added a novel way of looking at the world to my repertoire of perspectives.
This is the power of museums. We get to experience, in the flesh (or fabric), the work done by creatives who saw the world they inhabited and decided to improve it by adding their own creations into the mix.
And by experiencing their work, we take on some of their creative capacities. We learn to view the world a little more as an endless creative opportunity.
All of that happens for an afternoon of our time and a modest fee. The ticket cost me 70 pesos (around 3.5 dollars).
Opportunities to expand our creative power abound, we need only educate ourselves about them and seek them out!
When Was The Last Time You Visited A Museum?
This article came after a whole year of no museum visits due to the restrictions imposed by governments in the name of a virus. I am fortunate to be in Mexico City, where museums have begun opening again. I missed visiting museums for a whole year.
The day after I visited the Franz Mayer museum my mind felt relaxed and vibrant. Rich experience facilitates the creation of new and varied neural connections which keeps our minds sharp and our bodies young.
Rich experience can take many forms; visiting a museum, walking through a forest, meeting a close friend for coffee, learning how to dance a new style, cooking new food or traveling to new places. Life rewards those of us who engage with it fully; our choices become inscribed in our bodies and minds.
We are a living record of our experiences.
I invite you to consider taking the time to visit a museum. It doesn’t have to be fully planned nor do you have to know anything about the work your going to see. I had no idea who Alexander Girard was before I went to the Franz Mayer Museum; I also had no interest in furniture nor textile design.
Yet, now I know that there was a person, Girard, who in the 20th century dedicated his ponderous creative capacities to evolve the concepts of furniture and textile design. And loved every minute of it; you can tell from the way his work speaks to you.
So when was the last time you visited a museum! I’m curious to know! Leave your comments below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
Also, if you’re ever in Mexico City, I highly recommend you visit the Franz Mayer Museum
To our wealth and success.
2 thoughts on “Why Are Museums Important?”
Totally agreed. Great feeling after visiting a museum or gallery, see things differently and fills you with optimism, getting creative ideas. You said it, Erick. Unlike other free-time activity, it is not that heavily promoted by commercial subjecs, so I had to find it out myself. Nowadays, when I am on bussiness travel in a big city, always looking for a museum or gallery, it enriches me. What you describe for Girard, I had with Oscar Niemeyer, as we accidetally saw his exhibition in one museum.
Hi Pavel, thanks for reading the article and for taking the time to comment!
I discovered this power art has to expand our perception when I was living in the Czech Republic. It’s so easy to go to museums there. That was also where I discovered one of my favorite artists, a Czech by the name of Michael Rittstein. I saw his work in a 2019 exhibit in Prague Castle and was spellbound by his paintings. They are all vibrant and filled with grotesque caricatures of humans and animals. I spent several hours at the exhibition and left feeling charged with ideas.
I’m excited for the museums of the world to open so we can all start viewing art again.
All the best,