Tuesday, 22 November 2016




Have you ever found yourself visiting a museum multiple times, only to realize that you're re-tracing your steps? Being inspired by certain galleries and objects is part of what makes a museum visit memorable and special. I understand the tendency to revisit those objects; we're chasing a feeling, an inquiry, or maybe by understanding more about the objects we can understand more about ourselves and why we're drawn to them.

Personally, the most frustrating thing about being moved by an object is my inability to engage with it on a multi-sensory level. I love material culture, and when I see artifacts, I want to pick them up. I'm curious about their texture, whether they would look the same from close-up, how they smell, and if they are heavy or light. When I cannot do those things (and there are good reasons we can't), I do what a lot of people do: I take a picture.

Here's a horrible picture I took of a Maiolica dish at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford:

Here's one I tried to take in one of the European Galleries at the ROM:

This is the clearest picture I could get of the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum:

And it was so difficult to get a clear shot of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre that I gave up and took this picture of everyone else trying to take a picture:

Notice a pattern? Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of great pictures of museums from my travels, but even in the good ones there is always something about the objects that I cannot capture. I take a picture because I think it will help me remember how it felt to see that object in person, and because having my own record of the object makes me feel a bit like it's part of my own collection. That's why I've kept my flawed, blurry images. They are a photo journal of what has intellectually and emotionally captivated me over the years. 

Digital collections and social media platforms like Pinterest make it even easier for us to collect and save what inspires us. And while I firmly believe that digitizing collections is both necessary and convenient, I will always choose physical material over anything digital. The two work well together anyway, so luckily I don't have to choose. 

I am also always aware of how lucky I am to simply have the option to visit museums so frequently. In tense times, with the number of safe spaces steadily shrinking, it's comforting and humanizing to step outside of ourselves and be immersed in things that are all at once familiar and new. The objects came before us, and most of them will outlive us and remain constant long after we are gone. 

That's kind of nice, don't you think?  

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