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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

Why you should visit more museums

To me, a museum is an incomparable location and it eludes precise description: it is a confluence of beauty, culture and history. One of my favorite activities is going to museums, and I immediately look for one whenever I am somewhere new. As such, I decided to argue this hobby should be actively cultivated. 

The term museum comes from the ancient Greek words "mousa" and "mouseion," meaning muse and temple (of the nine muses), respectively. The muses were linked to different branches of the arts and sciences, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the deity of memory. They were also known for being the source of inspiration for great artists and intellectuals. Therefore, museums were sacred places, reserved for contemplation and study. The first museums contained libraries, gardens, observatories, reading rooms and other environments. 

For a long time, they were restricted to the elite, and only those with invitations to exhibitions could access museum works. Years later, they evolved into what we know today; that is, open to the general public and without distinction, a free space of an educational nature whose mission is to recover, preserve and disseminate collective memory through artifacts.

The museum has a role in informing and educating us about our shared human culture and experience through permanent exhibitions, recreational activities, multimedia, theater, video and laboratories. It is the ideal space to spark curiosity, stimulate reflection and debate, promote socialization, the principles of citizenship and collaboration for the sustainability of societal transformation.

Museums are much more than places where objects are displayed and preserved. In addition to being a means of protecting our material and immaterial heritage, illustrating cultural and natural diversity and promoting and generating opportunities for research, museums play a very important role in stimulating a creative local and regional economy which act as platforms for discussion.

Preserving human history and consigning accomplishments to collective memory has always been a great challenge. Museums are relevant within this context. Many think that they are just a path towards the past, when in fact they connect the past, present and future. Learning from the past can inspire us with the great deeds of old; it also allows us to know what has been done in order to improve mechanisms that influence the present, as well as reserve knowledge and skills for the future. 

We know that culture is a broad and complex term that may be defined from different perspectives. Under the anthropological lens, culture is the set of customs, traditions, habits and manifestations of a population, which builds its identity and its way of life and is transmitted generationally. Museums provide a way of encountering one's own culture or experiencing someone else's. They are filled with incredible pieces, regardless of the topic addressed, and revisiting these cultural demarcations can thus be an enriching and pleasurable endeavor.

Further, going to a museum can be a relaxing and meditative experience. It is generally a quiet space, and the exhibitions invite you to take time and care with each piece, demanding slowness of pace and presence of mind. In an art museum, the aesthetic quality of the paintings may contribute to this restorative effect, evoking awe and wonder. It is also an interesting opportunity to contemplate the hands that have made the artwork, and how it has traversed time and space, maybe even centuries, to arrive at its final destination. You may even observe the brushstrokes and feel a certain sense of connection to another human being across time.

Museums are not lacking in diversity either. They may be historical, artistic, scientific, interactive, ethnographic, technological, military or thematic. In all variations, it disseminates valuable knowledge. They provide a form of tangible, observational learning that is not possible within the classroom.

I hope to have in some way inspired you to visit a museum sometime soon. Opportunities abound within our vicinity, such as the Snite and the soon-to-be-inaugurated Raclin Murphy Museum of Art. Perhaps you may even choose to partake in Art180, a semester-long challenge invite to spend 180 minutes with a single painting. In any case, I hope to have at least accentuated their great functional significance.

Contact Marcelle Couto at