Why Go to a Museum If I Have the Web?
The Curious Truth
Art history education online seems like the most wonderful pursuit. I have the wealth of the world’s museums at my fingertips as I peruse some of my favorite sites, like the Met or even Google Arts and Culture. People can virtually sit in a chair and enjoy any major museum around the globe. With such wonderful resources available to expand the mind and understanding of world citizens, why do we actually need to go to a brick and mortar museum?
“Recently, a number of museums noticed a surge of visitors, particularly of young adults – the demographic most prized by institutions anxious to replace their aging audiences. Were young people being pulled in by blockbuster exhibits or perhaps by evening events offering a chance to mingle surrounded by artwork? Well, no. The museums eventually determined that the new arrivals were Pokémon Go players in search of viral characters hidden in the galleries” (http://insights.som.yale.edu/insights/what-makes-museum-successful).
This humorous report from Yale gives us insight into the challenges faced in our first-world culture today. People of means and foresight of the past clearly felt that these places were worth creating. Even someone who worked at Pokémon Go development felt that these cultural storehouses were a place where people should go (http://mashable.com/2016/07/10/john-hanke-pokemon-go/#PTOejJfjvkqH). What, then, is their inherent value? Surveying many institutions and writers, it boils down to this: Museums have real stuff. They are the third leg of a stool. History has documents, art, the visuals, but museums – they have the tangible objects. Without all three legs, our support falls flat. In an increasingly virtual world, this may be the most important difference. No screen or textbook can ever convey the feelings one experiences at a Holocaust museum with a room full of children’s shoes formerly worn by those whose lives were taken during a horrible genocide (http://roguescholar.blogs.com/my_weblog/2011/08/the-shoe-room-and-what-i-learned-there.html or http://dc.about.com/od/museums/p/HolocaustMuseum.htm). A quick glimpse of the interior of Trinity Church in Boston or an Alexander Calder sculpture in Chicago during a Khan Academy video can never match the experience of going and standing in or around these things.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services estimates that there are 850 million annual museum visits in the US. That’s more than the attendance at all the major league sporting events combined (http://travel.cnn.com/are-museums-still-relevant-today-543771/). It seems that museums are getting some attention, but are they being effective? Do we take advantage of access to the actual “things” of art and history? A museum’s mission is more than simply to preserve or display objects. Their greater mission is to connect these things to people today so that our cumulative cultural heritage can be passed on. Just as libraries are full of the words and writings of our civilization, so museums are ripe and ready to be harvested for tangible experiences with the “things” of our society. You don’t have to read or enjoy every book in the library to gain a rich life. Neither do you have to enjoy every piece of art or history in a museum; however, if you go to them regularly, you will grow and you will learn.
Do you know what museums are within one hour of you? Have you ever gone to them? What special exhibits might they have on display now? Would you like to learn something new and get away from this screen? Perhaps it is time to visit the real stuff.
Julie Rohr has taught for the past 20+ years in many areas of art and culture. She knows there is more to enjoy in great art than just “The Last Supper.” Ms. Rohr has personally developed a series of Art History courses that delights and engages students. Her drawing classes have seen participants grow in leaps and bounds!
Both parents and students praise Julie Rohr as having a knack for presenting material in a way that makes it interesting to understand and absorb. She is known for her enthusiasm and insight into the arts. More than once, she has been proclaimed as “my favorite teacher.”