That Ain’t Art (Inquiry): How Museums are Failing to Explain Approaching Their Art.
The problem with art is that we haven’t been explaining it properly. When my family members cautiously cast a glance my way expectantly for an explanation when they come across a piece they just don’t “get” in a museum, I inevitably get the question: Is that art?
Museums know this. That isn’t art! is a common exclamation, and more often than not we shrug our shoulders. If we’re lucky, there’s a defense of art. If we’re unlucky, art world connoisseurs will simply scoff. Plebians, they might think privately. Knowledge of art is assuming the persona of being cultured, being given access to something that is more than a necessity, an intellectual luxury. And we seem to think this is not only a common question, but one with an acceptable answer. “Is this art?” is rather straightforwards. Yes, the logic goes, it is. Visitors are often left to make a quick logical deduction that goes something like this: It doesn’t look like art, but it is in a museum, therefore it’s art, probably. Maybe I just don’t get it. 
But for lack of a better way of putting it, this is a truly terrible question and line of thinking, and an even more lazy response (or lack thereof) from museums. Let me explain: when my family asks if something is art, they want a definitive answer. Yes, or No? This seems like a reasonable thing to ask until you replace art with anything else. 
Imagine asking a scientist: “Am I biology?” 
Go outside. Look up. “Is that astronomy?”
Go to your local grocery store. Buy something. Ask the cashier: “Is this economics?” 
It seems silly, doesn’t it? Asking a yes/no question halts the thought process and discussion, and worst of all, stunts the learning that could be done. A single person is not the whole of biology any more than one piece in a museum is the whole of art. A person can be studied with biology, and is constantly going through biological processes, but we would never declare ourselves to be the science. Biology is the study of life. Astronomy the study of space. Economics the study of consuming goods and services.
Art boiled down is creation. This is simultaneously the most broad and precise definition I can think of; a thing must be created to be art, and that thing can be movement, story, experience, emotion, craft, design, painting… just about anything you can think of. This unsettles many people. To them, I say: Not all art is good, or even worth talking about. Art is even worth being unsettled over. 
But most importantly, Art is the world in which we exist, and museums should be making us realize that. I don’t mean that we are always going to be sitting beside obvious paintings and famous sculptures. I also don’t mean contemporary art is always easily understandable or even has a point all the time. I simply mean that humanity has created the world around us, and these creations are art just as much as a painting on the wall might be. Your laptop has a design and designer just as much as your public art installation has had.
Asking if something is art is a redundant question, one that museums may do well to move away from. Justifying an art definition is a complex undertaking that often ends on a breakdown of agreements and understanding on both sides. Asking how, and why, is a better way to engage both sides of the conversation. Move past arguing whether or not something in your museum is art, and instead pose real questions, ones that must be thought about seriously, and without condescension to be answered: 
Why was this made?
What is it made of?
How is it created?
Who created it? What made it possible to create?
Does it have a purpose? Is it functional? Emotional? Religious? Psychological? Decorative?
Where did it come from? 
When was it made?
What does it convey? How does it make you feel? Is it beautiful? Ugly? 
How long will it last?
What does this creation mean for us?
Art museums should not tell people their holdings are art because they are museums. Objects in museums are art because they were created, just as the building itself is art, and the clothes of the people inside are art. What separates what’s on the walls from what’s on a tourist’s back is not whether or not something is art. When we move past faulty logic and the justification of surroundings to define a concept, we are thrust into a much more interesting and immediate discussion of works of art. By the logic of assuming art is creation, we are exposed to more art outside of museums than in them; and we should question that accordingly. 

Don’t let your visitors believe art is a yes or no question. 

That Ain’t Art (Inquiry): How Museums are Failing to Explain Approaching Their Art.

The problem with art is that we haven’t been explaining it properly. When my family members cautiously cast a glance my way expectantly for an explanation when they come across a piece they just don’t “get” in a museum, I inevitably get the question: Is that art?

Museums know this. That isn’t art! is a common exclamation, and more often than not we shrug our shoulders. If we’re lucky, there’s a defense of art. If we’re unlucky, art world connoisseurs will simply scoff. Plebians, they might think privately. Knowledge of art is assuming the persona of being cultured, being given access to something that is more than a necessity, an intellectual luxury. And we seem to think this is not only a common question, but one with an acceptable answer. “Is this art?” is rather straightforwards. Yes, the logic goes, it is. Visitors are often left to make a quick logical deduction that goes something like this: It doesn’t look like art, but it is in a museum, therefore it’s art, probably. Maybe I just don’t get it. 

But for lack of a better way of putting it, this is a truly terrible question and line of thinking, and an even more lazy response (or lack thereof) from museums. Let me explain: when my family asks if something is art, they want a definitive answer. Yes, or No? This seems like a reasonable thing to ask until you replace art with anything else. 

Imagine asking a scientist: “Am I biology?” 

Go outside. Look up. “Is that astronomy?”

Go to your local grocery store. Buy something. Ask the cashier: “Is this economics?” 

It seems silly, doesn’t it? Asking a yes/no question halts the thought process and discussion, and worst of all, stunts the learning that could be done. A single person is not the whole of biology any more than one piece in a museum is the whole of art. A person can be studied with biology, and is constantly going through biological processes, but we would never declare ourselves to be the science. Biology is the study of life. Astronomy the study of space. Economics the study of consuming goods and services.

Art boiled down is creation. This is simultaneously the most broad and precise definition I can think of; a thing must be created to be art, and that thing can be movement, story, experience, emotion, craft, design, painting… just about anything you can think of. This unsettles many people. To them, I say: Not all art is good, or even worth talking about. Art is even worth being unsettled over. 

But most importantly, Art is the world in which we exist, and museums should be making us realize that. I don’t mean that we are always going to be sitting beside obvious paintings and famous sculptures. I also don’t mean contemporary art is always easily understandable or even has a point all the time. I simply mean that humanity has created the world around us, and these creations are art just as much as a painting on the wall might be. Your laptop has a design and designer just as much as your public art installation has had.

Asking if something is art is a redundant question, one that museums may do well to move away from. Justifying an art definition is a complex undertaking that often ends on a breakdown of agreements and understanding on both sides. Asking how, and why, is a better way to engage both sides of the conversation. Move past arguing whether or not something in your museum is art, and instead pose real questions, ones that must be thought about seriously, and without condescension to be answered: 

  • Why was this made?
  • What is it made of?
  • How is it created?
  • Who created it? What made it possible to create?
  • Does it have a purpose? Is it functional? Emotional? Religious? Psychological? Decorative?
  • Where did it come from? 
  • When was it made?
  • What does it convey? How does it make you feel? Is it beautiful? Ugly? 
  • How long will it last?
  • What does this creation mean for us?

Art museums should not tell people their holdings are art because they are museums. Objects in museums are art because they were created, just as the building itself is art, and the clothes of the people inside are art. What separates what’s on the walls from what’s on a tourist’s back is not whether or not something is art. When we move past faulty logic and the justification of surroundings to define a concept, we are thrust into a much more interesting and immediate discussion of works of art. By the logic of assuming art is creation, we are exposed to more art outside of museums than in them; and we should question that accordingly. 

Don’t let your visitors believe art is a yes or no question. 

Tombstones vs. Text Panels: Why don’t museums tell everything?

This is a perfectly fair problem/complaint. You’re completely right - sometimes museuns are scant with the information they place on their text panels. You’re talking about extended text panels, the kinds of labels that explain something in depth about the piece. What you’re running into that you don’t care for is casually called a tombstone, the bare bones information: title, date, artist, materials used, etc. 

There are a few reaons for these. One: there are a few theories about how audience and object interact with each other (for folks who are fond of constructionist theory), but the more common reasons are: The piece has information being conveyed elsewhere, and/or visitors only spend an average of 7 seconds looking at the labels to begin with. 

We have seven seconds.

So what that tells us is that the majority of people aren’t going to read beyond title, artist, date anyways. After having written the labels for an exhibition (extended labels with information, but still short and faily concise, on avg. about 60 words), I can tell you there’s a lot of work going into the labels that do have information. Draft after draft and pages of ideas, in my case an interview with the artist, and a fair amount of background research — all with the knowledge that many people wouldn’t bother to read what I wrote anyways. I took this as a challenge to not be boring, but you can’t be all things for all people. 

The goal is certainly to try, however. And in the case of permanent collections in museums which do not have more than tombstone labels, it’s often because there’s a lot of opportuity for extended programming with the pieces. They’re part of the museum, they might rarely rotate, and they’ve usually been there for long enough that they already have extensive research on the pieces. Or they might someday have that research. Mr. Durston complained there was no information, but refused to pick up an audio guide, which is generally where that excessive information goes first. Nowadays, museums are utilizing audio guides, tours/docents, mobile apps for smart phones, QR codes, and pamphlets/fliers that have the extended information that you can pick up and sometimes take with you if you want to know even more. 

I’m in complete agreement with you! I love extended labels, I want to read more about things, to be beguiled by the books which have even more information, to calmly contemplate what is being presented to me. But again, we are the odd ones out. Most people have about 7 seconds of attention per piece, if that, and then move on. We have a fair amount of opportunities to approach in different ways with all the same information — there’s an app for that now. We can create youtube videos and interactive computers, audio tours, in-person tours, etc. Some people are simply not visual/textual learners. To attract these people, we need alternatives. 

Part of my problem with my museum studies course tackling this article is that 1.) Mr. Durston is complaining about things that are problems and all their solutions, and 2.) It’s clearly written to be divisive and riling, but to do little else. I’m sure he’s completely aware of the fact that he wouldn’t read every extended label, and I’m just as sure he realizes that his being interested in extensive amounts of information makes him a bit of an outlier, not the norm as my class suspects. In other words, no, I don’t think he’s ignorant, or someone who hates culture. I think he’s writing an article to make money and be controversial in his language while he does so. 

He’s got a point — objects should relate to people, the relation of objects to objects and objects to civilizations can be illustrated to great effect, extended labels can be wonderful (or unread), context and connectivity can be extremely helpful, adults want alternatives to formal lecturing as activities, etc. This is the same point you have, that you want context and the story behind things. I think that’s a huge goal in any given museum. But the solution isn’t approached by simply writing more extended labels, it has to be much bigger than that, and yes, it even extends to the gift shop. 

I think we’re fundamentally in agreement, I just think the explanations of “Why isn’t there more information?” is lacking and a fault of the museos for not explaining it.

Tombstones vs. Text Panels: Why don’t museums tell everything?

This is a perfectly fair problem/complaint. You’re completely right - sometimes museuns are scant with the information they place on their text panels. You’re talking about extended text panels, the kinds of labels that explain something in depth about the piece. What you’re running into that you don’t care for is casually called a tombstone, the bare bones information: title, date, artist, materials used, etc.

There are a few reaons for these. One: there are a few theories about how audience and object interact with each other (for folks who are fond of constructionist theory), but the more common reasons are: The piece has information being conveyed elsewhere, and/or visitors only spend an average of 7 seconds looking at the labels to begin with.

We have seven seconds.

So what that tells us is that the majority of people aren’t going to read beyond title, artist, date anyways. After having written the labels for an exhibition (extended labels with information, but still short and faily concise, on avg. about 60 words), I can tell you there’s a lot of work going into the labels that do have information. Draft after draft and pages of ideas, in my case an interview with the artist, and a fair amount of background research — all with the knowledge that many people wouldn’t bother to read what I wrote anyways. I took this as a challenge to not be boring, but you can’t be all things for all people.

The goal is certainly to try, however. And in the case of permanent collections in museums which do not have more than tombstone labels, it’s often because there’s a lot of opportuity for extended programming with the pieces. They’re part of the museum, they might rarely rotate, and they’ve usually been there for long enough that they already have extensive research on the pieces. Or they might someday have that research. Mr. Durston complained there was no information, but refused to pick up an audio guide, which is generally where that excessive information goes first. Nowadays, museums are utilizing audio guides, tours/docents, mobile apps for smart phones, QR codes, and pamphlets/fliers that have the extended information that you can pick up and sometimes take with you if you want to know even more.

I’m in complete agreement with you! I love extended labels, I want to read more about things, to be beguiled by the books which have even more information, to calmly contemplate what is being presented to me. But again, we are the odd ones out. Most people have about 7 seconds of attention per piece, if that, and then move on. We have a fair amount of opportunities to approach in different ways with all the same information — there’s an app for that now. We can create youtube videos and interactive computers, audio tours, in-person tours, etc. Some people are simply not visual/textual learners. To attract these people, we need alternatives.

Part of my problem with my museum studies course tackling this article is that 1.) Mr. Durston is complaining about things that are problems and all their solutions, and 2.) It’s clearly written to be divisive and riling, but to do little else. I’m sure he’s completely aware of the fact that he wouldn’t read every extended label, and I’m just as sure he realizes that his being interested in extensive amounts of information makes him a bit of an outlier, not the norm as my class suspects. In other words, no, I don’t think he’s ignorant, or someone who hates culture. I think he’s writing an article to make money and be controversial in his language while he does so.

He’s got a point — objects should relate to people, the relation of objects to objects and objects to civilizations can be illustrated to great effect, extended labels can be wonderful (or unread), context and connectivity can be extremely helpful, adults want alternatives to formal lecturing as activities, etc. This is the same point you have, that you want context and the story behind things. I think that’s a huge goal in any given museum. But the solution isn’t approached by simply writing more extended labels, it has to be much bigger than that, and yes, it even extends to the gift shop.

I think we’re fundamentally in agreement, I just think the explanations of “Why isn’t there more information?” is lacking and a fault of the museos for not explaining it.

I Hate “Why I hate Museums”. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. I’m completely willing to admit that, because my mother did not finish college, she might have found museums to be the best place to take her young Latina daughter to educate her. I’m a museum studies major, it’s fairly obvious I like museums. Love them, even. 
It’s not surprising people who work in museums love museums. Neither is it surprising to me that lots of people dislike them, as CNN’s James Durston laments in “Why I Hate Museums.” More power to Mr. Durston. But I have some problems with his argument, or at least some gut reactions that remind me deeply of my mother. If I was going to complain I was bored, she would wisely tell me one or two different things: 1.) Only boring people are bored, or 2.) You’re bored? Go clean your room. 
Which isn’t to say Mr. Durston is a boring man — I’m sure he’s quite interesting, well-traveled, and has been to more museums than he cares to count. But I’m also reticent to listen to a critic who hates where he goes advise me on where to go. And conversely, I’m sure we can all recognize there’s no point in trying to convince a food critic to love a desert he hates. 
But that’s not what I think the problem is. Plenty of people dislike museums, and while I disagree — we’re all allowed to dislike or misunderstand different fixtures of society. Some of us love the Superbowl. Some people can’t tell a touchdown from a third down and others can’t tell a Manet from a Monet. That doesn’t make these people unintelligent, it’s just not their area of specialty. But my problem with Mr. Durston’s article isn’t that he dislikes museums — he’s entitled to — my problem is that the article is meant to be provocative and little else. I suppose that’s what opinion articles are for, but view it from my perspective: What does Mr. Durston like? Enjoy? Not medieval ceramics, not algae, not beer chalices, not bowls, plates, Islamic art, Napoleon’s personal effects, George Washington’s home; the Sex museum is boring, the Beer museum isn’t “intoxicating” enough. 
But he seems to think children have fun at museums. 
I thought this was the most interesting part of this article. Children have fun, don’t they? He states:

Kids do seem to have a good time when pushing buttons, pulling levers and magnetizing soap bubbles (right up until they stop having a great time and turn into wailing bundles of hair and tears only a little more bored than the parents).

Which having interned at a Children’s museum as an educator, I would have to say is more the nature of children than the nature of museums. Perhaps Mr. Durston should take a leaf out of their book, if he’s not enjoying things. Maybe he’s bored because he’s not having fun. Which isn’t to say museums don’t have problems in accessibility, I certainly think they do — but the complaints of the article seem easily fixable, even nonsensical at points:
There’s not enough information on the labels — but he refuses to listen to audio guides. If you refuse the solutions to obtaining more information, what is a museum worker to do? 
Children have fun interacting with exhibits — but museums are stiff, dry, and academic. Too adult and too childish at the same time. 
"Free" museums require public taxes to pay for them. This is silly — of course government funded museums are funded by taxes. The government doesn’t magic money out of thin air - or at least it shouldn’t be doing so. The reasons for our national debt aside, it seems ridiculous to complain that museums must be paid for with actual money as opposed to…some strange nebulous alternative. Museums as he mentions, are one of the few public institutions that earns money, generating $7 for every $1 they spend. So is a minute percentage of public taxpayer dollars the issue, or is the issue that Mr. Durston just really hates museums? Does he believe they run themselves or that we all have a Daddy Warbucks taking us in as the redheaded orphan of government funding? The Smithsonian is a government opened museum — so it’s not surprising or out of line for 65% of it to be funded by the public. 
I’m frankly, unsure what the problem is with those things. If you refuse the solutions, we can’t fix the problem. If you have problems with museums receiving money in order to be free, you’re going to have to expect to spend a lot more on entry fees. People complain about the amount of funding the Smithsonian receives, but in the same breath forget to count just how many museums the Smithsonian is composed of — Nineteen museums, nine research centers, and over 140 affiliate museums. Is it any wonder they might have a bigger need for funding than a singular museum? 
Mr. Durston complains he can’t eat snacks in the galleries but also laments the cafes we do offer. He says museums aren’t engaging, but then complains that gift shops, well, exist. And for those of us who do study museums, for better or for worse, we recognize that gift shops make our museums accessible, portable, and gift-able. You can continue learning at home with books or postcards. You can present the experience you engaged in to others as a gift, an accessory, a conversation piece. Artists can sell their wares, we can pick up science kits for nieces and nephews, and all in all, museum gift shops do precisely what Mr. Durston wants from his entire museum experience. 
Still, this isn’t enough. And he’s not wrong, museums do need to engage. But we can’t be all things to all people, especially when those people contradict themselves in the same article. The education director at the Phoenix Art Museum (where my Museum studies class is being held) suggests this attitude means I shouldn’t go into education. And while that’s not my goal, I’ve done other education internships — I don’t think it’s detrimental to admit you can’t win everyone. 
The question this article raises for me isn’t “Do people dislike museums?” I know they do. And it’s not “what’s wrong with them?” because all the contradictions aside, I understand where the complaints are coming from. My question is how to we process this kind of feedback? How are we failing to make our missions clear when visitors bemoan that: “Nothing subverts a museum’s mission like a shiny, digitally printed banner broadcasting $4.95 replica Davids.” 
I don’t think we’re just failing to be accessible, I think we’re failing to make museums comprehensible. I don’t think it’s just museums, either — as the issues seem to extend to basic maths and civics (Government institutions are paid for by taxes because it can’t be absolutely free), public manners (libraries don’t allow for snacking either), etc. 
My question is also: If kids are enjoying museums, but Mr. Durston is not, where has his joy gone? Why the ennui when other people are enjoying themselves? Should museums be trying to please everyone, or just the people who might be open to being museum-goers? 
I think it’s an honest question. Perhaps my youth or perspective in this field is getting in the way of how I respond to such complaints. Perhaps in equal response to Mr. Durston’s ennui I have hubris — I’ve taken even the most reluctant friends to museums and still had them enjoy the experience even if we both disliked what we saw. 
Is the problem entirely fixable issues in museums or in this instance, is part of the problem simply that it’s not this CNN reporters cup of tea? I take no offense if it isn’t — but I don’t think we should radically change or alter museums based on the experiences of people who hate the concept of museums. 
I’m not the only one puzzled by the article: 

Mr. Durston, as you know, many pieces have information about them displayed or you can listen to audio give you even more detail but I’m disturbed that this isn’t even enough for you as you state. (Then, if something did go beyond this you are disappointed that they have a gift shop afterwards.) Heck, I don’t even want all the information for each piece because I’m the kind of person that would read or listen to every damn one. I’d lose my mind. I can appreciate like items in the same exhibit without feeling the need for minutiae. I’ve also attended many museum exhibits that reenact certain periods, tell stories, show movies, have other related displays and so on. I believe that museums have come VERY far in the 40 plus years I’ve attended them. Museums are educational but they are also about preservation and finding the right blend is important. I’d like to think that this diatribe is a somewhat altruistic attempt at getting museums to increase their patronage but please stop trying to make it all about you and your particular attention span.
— Chrissy Carr 

I’m the last person to say that museums are perfect at what they do. They aren’t, but no industry is. Still, perhaps part of the problem isn’t just what we’re doing, but explaining why we’re doing it that way, and what has to happen for it to change, especially in an age of instant gratification expected. Perhaps then we’d be able to have a better dialogue about the purpose of museum gift shops, of audio guides, or why labels are often so sparse. Even just explaining that museums include zoos, have films, video games, cartoons, oral histories, etc… It’s the least we (the museos) could do to justify our own careers and institutions. 
What do you think?

I Hate “Why I hate Museums”. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. I’m completely willing to admit that, because my mother did not finish college, she might have found museums to be the best place to take her young Latina daughter to educate her. I’m a museum studies major, it’s fairly obvious I like museums. Love them, even. 

It’s not surprising people who work in museums love museums. Neither is it surprising to me that lots of people dislike them, as CNN’s James Durston laments in “Why I Hate Museums.” More power to Mr. Durston. But I have some problems with his argument, or at least some gut reactions that remind me deeply of my mother. If I was going to complain I was bored, she would wisely tell me one or two different things: 1.) Only boring people are bored, or 2.) You’re bored? Go clean your room. 

Which isn’t to say Mr. Durston is a boring man — I’m sure he’s quite interesting, well-traveled, and has been to more museums than he cares to count. But I’m also reticent to listen to a critic who hates where he goes advise me on where to go. And conversely, I’m sure we can all recognize there’s no point in trying to convince a food critic to love a desert he hates. 

But that’s not what I think the problem is. Plenty of people dislike museums, and while I disagree — we’re all allowed to dislike or misunderstand different fixtures of society. Some of us love the Superbowl. Some people can’t tell a touchdown from a third down and others can’t tell a Manet from a Monet. That doesn’t make these people unintelligent, it’s just not their area of specialty. But my problem with Mr. Durston’s article isn’t that he dislikes museums — he’s entitled to — my problem is that the article is meant to be provocative and little else. I suppose that’s what opinion articles are for, but view it from my perspective: What does Mr. Durston like? Enjoy? Not medieval ceramics, not algae, not beer chalices, not bowls, plates, Islamic art, Napoleon’s personal effects, George Washington’s home; the Sex museum is boring, the Beer museum isn’t “intoxicating” enough. 

But he seems to think children have fun at museums. 

I thought this was the most interesting part of this article. Children have fun, don’t they? He states:

Kids do seem to have a good time when pushing buttons, pulling levers and magnetizing soap bubbles (right up until they stop having a great time and turn into wailing bundles of hair and tears only a little more bored than the parents).

Which having interned at a Children’s museum as an educator, I would have to say is more the nature of children than the nature of museums. Perhaps Mr. Durston should take a leaf out of their book, if he’s not enjoying things. Maybe he’s bored because he’s not having fun. Which isn’t to say museums don’t have problems in accessibility, I certainly think they do — but the complaints of the article seem easily fixable, even nonsensical at points:

  • There’s not enough information on the labels — but he refuses to listen to audio guides. If you refuse the solutions to obtaining more information, what is a museum worker to do? 
  • Children have fun interacting with exhibits — but museums are stiff, dry, and academic. Too adult and too childish at the same time. 
  • "Free" museums require public taxes to pay for them. This is silly — of course government funded museums are funded by taxes. The government doesn’t magic money out of thin air - or at least it shouldn’t be doing so. The reasons for our national debt aside, it seems ridiculous to complain that museums must be paid for with actual money as opposed to…some strange nebulous alternative. Museums as he mentions, are one of the few public institutions that earns money, generating $7 for every $1 they spend. So is a minute percentage of public taxpayer dollars the issue, or is the issue that Mr. Durston just really hates museums? Does he believe they run themselves or that we all have a Daddy Warbucks taking us in as the redheaded orphan of government funding? The Smithsonian is a government opened museum — so it’s not surprising or out of line for 65% of it to be funded by the public. 

I’m frankly, unsure what the problem is with those things. If you refuse the solutions, we can’t fix the problem. If you have problems with museums receiving money in order to be free, you’re going to have to expect to spend a lot more on entry fees. People complain about the amount of funding the Smithsonian receives, but in the same breath forget to count just how many museums the Smithsonian is composed of — Nineteen museums, nine research centers, and over 140 affiliate museums. Is it any wonder they might have a bigger need for funding than a singular museum? 

Mr. Durston complains he can’t eat snacks in the galleries but also laments the cafes we do offer. He says museums aren’t engaging, but then complains that gift shops, well, exist. And for those of us who do study museums, for better or for worse, we recognize that gift shops make our museums accessible, portable, and gift-able. You can continue learning at home with books or postcards. You can present the experience you engaged in to others as a gift, an accessory, a conversation piece. Artists can sell their wares, we can pick up science kits for nieces and nephews, and all in all, museum gift shops do precisely what Mr. Durston wants from his entire museum experience. 

Still, this isn’t enough. And he’s not wrong, museums do need to engage. But we can’t be all things to all people, especially when those people contradict themselves in the same article. The education director at the Phoenix Art Museum (where my Museum studies class is being held) suggests this attitude means I shouldn’t go into education. And while that’s not my goal, I’ve done other education internships — I don’t think it’s detrimental to admit you can’t win everyone. 

The question this article raises for me isn’t “Do people dislike museums?” I know they do. And it’s not “what’s wrong with them?” because all the contradictions aside, I understand where the complaints are coming from. My question is how to we process this kind of feedback? How are we failing to make our missions clear when visitors bemoan that: “Nothing subverts a museum’s mission like a shiny, digitally printed banner broadcasting $4.95 replica Davids.” 

I don’t think we’re just failing to be accessible, I think we’re failing to make museums comprehensible. I don’t think it’s just museums, either — as the issues seem to extend to basic maths and civics (Government institutions are paid for by taxes because it can’t be absolutely free), public manners (libraries don’t allow for snacking either), etc. 

My question is also: If kids are enjoying museums, but Mr. Durston is not, where has his joy gone? Why the ennui when other people are enjoying themselves? Should museums be trying to please everyone, or just the people who might be open to being museum-goers? 

I think it’s an honest question. Perhaps my youth or perspective in this field is getting in the way of how I respond to such complaints. Perhaps in equal response to Mr. Durston’s ennui I have hubris — I’ve taken even the most reluctant friends to museums and still had them enjoy the experience even if we both disliked what we saw. 

Is the problem entirely fixable issues in museums or in this instance, is part of the problem simply that it’s not this CNN reporters cup of tea? I take no offense if it isn’t — but I don’t think we should radically change or alter museums based on the experiences of people who hate the concept of museums. 

I’m not the only one puzzled by the article: 

Mr. Durston, as you know, many pieces have information about them displayed or you can listen to audio give you even more detail but I’m disturbed that this isn’t even enough for you as you state. (Then, if something did go beyond this you are disappointed that they have a gift shop afterwards.) Heck, I don’t even want all the information for each piece because I’m the kind of person that would read or listen to every damn one. I’d lose my mind. I can appreciate like items in the same exhibit without feeling the need for minutiae. I’ve also attended many museum exhibits that reenact certain periods, tell stories, show movies, have other related displays and so on. I believe that museums have come VERY far in the 40 plus years I’ve attended them. Museums are educational but they are also about preservation and finding the right blend is important. I’d like to think that this diatribe is a somewhat altruistic attempt at getting museums to increase their patronage but please stop trying to make it all about you and your particular attention span.

— Chrissy Carr 

I’m the last person to say that museums are perfect at what they do. They aren’t, but no industry is. Still, perhaps part of the problem isn’t just what we’re doing, but explaining why we’re doing it that way, and what has to happen for it to change, especially in an age of instant gratification expected. Perhaps then we’d be able to have a better dialogue about the purpose of museum gift shops, of audio guides, or why labels are often so sparse. Even just explaining that museums include zoos, have films, video games, cartoons, oral histories, etc… It’s the least we (the museos) could do to justify our own careers and institutions. 

What do you think?


Photo of a Water bearer at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I loved New York City — the people were wonderful, the neighborhood I stayed in reminded me of home (We were in Spanish Harlem, which feels like a more compact version of South Tucson), and best of all, we were within walking distance of The Met.  
I think NYC gets a bad rap from people in a few ways. I won’t say it’s a place free of any negatives, but I really spent very little during the two full days I was there. This was probably because I only had time to visit a graduate program I’m applying to, and the Met (and didn’t drop all the money I wanted to at The Strand Bookstore), but it was wonderful! The people were more than polite, they were exceedingly helpful. 
I’ve also been to Chicago, and Philly, and I have to say I do prefer the more condensed city atmosphere. It was nice to get around mostly walking, if not a tad bit exhausting. 
That said, I met up with my friend, mentor, and previous internship supervisor April (I interned with her at the Morse Museum for my spring break in Florida). We hit the Met on the second day (most of my first day was taken up by me exploring and chatting with a professor). She’d been before, and The Met had two different exhibitions we’d wanted to see, so we sought out the exhibition on Silla and the textiles exhibition that explores world-wide trade. 
We had quite a bit of fun, but we also got horribly lost within the museum a few times. I have quite a few more pictures and anecdotes to share, so I’ll hopefully stagger them a bit. My christmas was chilly, but lovely, and I’m glad I got the chance to visit New York. All said and done, however, my “winding down” this break has consisted of completing graduate applications. 
Two down, Five to go… 

Photo of a Water bearer at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I loved New York City — the people were wonderful, the neighborhood I stayed in reminded me of home (We were in Spanish Harlem, which feels like a more compact version of South Tucson), and best of all, we were within walking distance of The Met.  

I think NYC gets a bad rap from people in a few ways. I won’t say it’s a place free of any negatives, but I really spent very little during the two full days I was there. This was probably because I only had time to visit a graduate program I’m applying to, and the Met (and didn’t drop all the money I wanted to at The Strand Bookstore), but it was wonderful! The people were more than polite, they were exceedingly helpful. 

I’ve also been to Chicago, and Philly, and I have to say I do prefer the more condensed city atmosphere. It was nice to get around mostly walking, if not a tad bit exhausting. 

That said, I met up with my friend, mentor, and previous internship supervisor April (I interned with her at the Morse Museum for my spring break in Florida). We hit the Met on the second day (most of my first day was taken up by me exploring and chatting with a professor). She’d been before, and The Met had two different exhibitions we’d wanted to see, so we sought out the exhibition on Silla and the textiles exhibition that explores world-wide trade. 

We had quite a bit of fun, but we also got horribly lost within the museum a few times. I have quite a few more pictures and anecdotes to share, so I’ll hopefully stagger them a bit. My christmas was chilly, but lovely, and I’m glad I got the chance to visit New York. All said and done, however, my “winding down” this break has consisted of completing graduate applications. 

Two down, Five to go… 

Meet a Museum Blogger: Desiree

I was asked to interview with Museum Minute recently via twitter. Go check my interview out, and while you’re at it, have a slightly bigger picture of my current twitter icon/edited version of Asianhistory’s tumblr icon. I speak a little bit about what got me into museums, why I blog Asianhistory/UShistoryminuswhiteguys, and what my background as a Mexican-American means for me and my blogs. 

I also got the Museum job I mentioned when I replied! Find me: @missmuseo on twitter, and themuseologist on tumblr. 

asianartmuseum:

Our new exhibition In Grand Style: Celebrations in Korean Art during the Joseon Dynasty opens next Friday. Want a sneak peek this weekend from the comfort of your home?
For those in the Bay Area, tune in—or set your DVR—to KGO-TV/ABC7 this Saturday night at 10:00 pm and watch “In Grand Style: Celebrating Korea,” a 30-minute special program shot on location in Korea. Hear Benu chef Corey Lee and Kimchi Chronicles’ Marja Vongerichten, designer Kuho Jung, architect Dijoon Hwang, and others offer insights on the exhibition’s relevance to contemporary Korean culture. 
It will re-broadcast on Sunday at 6:30 pm. If this glimpse of a kimchi festival from the shoot doesn’t pique your interest, well…

I loved the Asian Art Museum. It’s such a shame I can’t afford to just pop over to San Francisco whenever I’d like to go see this! If you’re in town, however, you should go.

asianartmuseum:

Our new exhibition In Grand Style: Celebrations in Korean Art during the Joseon Dynasty opens next Friday. Want a sneak peek this weekend from the comfort of your home?

For those in the Bay Area, tune in—or set your DVR—to KGO-TV/ABC7 this Saturday night at 10:00 pm and watch “In Grand Style: Celebrating Korea,” a 30-minute special program shot on location in Korea. Hear Benu chef Corey Lee and Kimchi Chronicles’ Marja Vongerichten, designer Kuho Jung, architect Dijoon Hwang, and others offer insights on the exhibition’s relevance to contemporary Korean culture. 

It will re-broadcast on Sunday at 6:30 pm. If this glimpse of a kimchi festival from the shoot doesn’t pique your interest, well…

I loved the Asian Art Museum. It’s such a shame I can’t afford to just pop over to San Francisco whenever I’d like to go see this! If you’re in town, however, you should go.

One of my favorite photos I took while at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I’d write more but I’m supremely exhausted right now! That said, more to come. It was a wonderful museum. 

blantonmuseum:

The University of Texas at Austin’s Department of English has created an incredible historical reconstruction of the first-ever retrospective of the work of Sir Joshua Reynolds, held at the British Institution in 1813. See what Jane Austen and others who attended this major social event would have seen in this e-gallery: http://www.whatjanesaw.org/index.php

blantonmuseum:

The University of Texas at Austin’s Department of English has created an incredible historical reconstruction of the first-ever retrospective of the work of Sir Joshua Reynolds, held at the British Institution in 1813. See what Jane Austen and others who attended this major social event would have seen in this e-gallery: http://www.whatjanesaw.org/index.php

lacma:

Our initial goal with this project was primarily to activate a gallery into an art exhibition, but ultimately I think we activated a little something in each of the students. Recently I watched two students take to the artistic process in ways that educators hope. The first student showed her methodical approach as she arranged her brushes according to color. She experimented by alternating between her fingers and brushes as painting tools. She also dripped paint by holding her “canvas” vertical. The second student was just as iconoclastic. He was the first to introduce a hanging component in his artwork, expanding the confines of the canvas. He also innovated a painting technique in which he rolled a paint brush between his hands, creating a signature gesture distinguishable in his artwork.
A Day at LACMA… in MacArthur Park | Unframed The LACMA Blog
I love our education team.

lacma:

Our initial goal with this project was primarily to activate a gallery into an art exhibition, but ultimately I think we activated a little something in each of the students. Recently I watched two students take to the artistic process in ways that educators hope. The first student showed her methodical approach as she arranged her brushes according to color. She experimented by alternating between her fingers and brushes as painting tools. She also dripped paint by holding her “canvas” vertical. The second student was just as iconoclastic. He was the first to introduce a hanging component in his artwork, expanding the confines of the canvas. He also innovated a painting technique in which he rolled a paint brush between his hands, creating a signature gesture distinguishable in his artwork.

A Day at LACMA… in MacArthur Park | Unframed The LACMA Blog

I love our education team.

nyc-arts:

The Museum of the City of New York has opened ‘A Beautiful Way to Go: New York’s Green-Wood Cemetery’ to mark the 175th anniversary of this National Historic Landmark. Basically, if you’re gonna spend the rest of eternity somewhere, it should at least be scenic…learn more: http://bit.ly/12sVcI5 http://on.fb.me/19JNn0L

nyc-arts:

The Museum of the City of New York has opened ‘A Beautiful Way to Go: New York’s Green-Wood Cemetery’ to mark the 175th anniversary of this National Historic Landmark. Basically, if you’re gonna spend the rest of eternity somewhere, it should at least be scenic…learn more: http://bit.ly/12sVcI5 http://on.fb.me/19JNn0L