BY: KATIE PAOLOZZA
I'm so excited to present the first summer edition of Greatest Hits! As much as I enjoyed writing this column over the last school year, I was uncertain about whether or not I wanted to continue on as its contributing editor. I adore writing for Musings because of the versatility we have as writers to explore our specific opinions on things, and I thought switching it up and writing for another one of our bylines would be a great way to have a new adventure within the safety of the familiar...
What clinched it for me was the fact that if I kept writing Greatest Hits, I would finally get to revisit the articles of my classmates! We have a rule that the older posting must be at least eight months old, which gives us a chance to really trace the evolution of Museum Studies and the blog's response to that. It also forces us to be as impartial as we can and make sure we pay attention to the learning curves of our more experienced colleagues, and not just post an entry that's little more than a shout-out to our friends.
That being said, enjoy my review of my friend's exhibition review!
My friend Sadie MacDonald wrote what I believe was her very first article for Musings in September of 2016 (so technically I did go back far enough). She chose to review the Bata Shoe Museum's exhibit called Art & Innovation, which explores traditional Arctic footwear.
It's a good time to revisit an article like this. For one, the exhibit is still running, and will likely be running for quite some time. I also enjoy how the review came from Sadie's first visit to the museum in general. There are many ways that museums update themselves and keep the visitors' experiences feeling fresh no matter how many times they visit. In fact, that's a guiding principle behind the concept of museum memberships, but actually visiting a museum for the first time is something different and irreplaceable. When I talk to tourists who are visiting the ROM for the first time, many of them say that they planned their visit around one or two galleries, but ended up spending most of their time in another. I like hearing that because I like knowing that we can still surprise ourselves. The knowledge that we will never completely understand what triggers our emotions is disturbing but also comforting; life will always have a little mystery to it, and so too will museums.
Sadie also calls attention to how the Bata Shoe Museum was careful to focus on the specifics. They didn't draw grand (and over-generalized) conclusions about the Arctic or the different Indigenous nations that were represented. They told individual stories, crediting the artists themselves whenever possible, and used the gallery space to try to recreate the geographical layout of the Arctic by placing the artifacts in their appropriate region. The stories behind the footwear sit and speak for themselves in the same rough configuration that they do in reality. The connections we make as critical thinking visitors are of course shaped and aided by the didactic materials, but they remain our own. I appreciate Bata's efforts to appeal to our intelligence and not to spoon-feed us what they believe we should be thinking.
It's almost like when we get excited, or perhaps a tad obsessive, over something that is by definition trivial. I know too much about the history of Western European hygiene, and the Simpsons, and I don't really know what my accumulated knowledge of these things means in the grander scheme. I'm not always aware of the ways in which my brain makes connections between various things, and what guides me to learn more about one thing and ignore something else. I also never really know which gallery is going to interest me the most when I visit a museum for the first time, but I value the process.
We don't always have to have the perfect defense for why we love the things we do. It's enough that we thoughtfully question ourselves and what is around us. If we sometimes have to admit our ignorance, all the better. We can just make a new connection.