The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Time for a new argument methinks?

Hooray it was only a matter of time before the usual arguments were trotted out again prior to Museums and Galleries Month! Witness the following article by Mick Hume in The Times,

which seems to adhere to the grumpy person's whingefest checklist against museums:

Dumbing down - check!
Edutainment - check!
Individual identity cannot be reconciled with national or local identity suggesting we are all selfishly looking for ourselves in the museum - check!
Slaves to government need to account for every single penny going through Downing Street through facetious linking of art and culture to the economy - check!
Being too populist - check!
Fallacy of using the past to search for meaning - check!

I would agree with some of these statements, after all the obsession with finding a meaning for everything is getting a bit over-eager when sometimes surely there is no meaning in art or culture other than to want to go and look at something different or old. However I am fed up with the relentless pessimissm of those who attack museums and then offer nothing in return to remedy the situation. Hume accuses museums of 19th century paternalism, for instance:

"It is that they know what is best for us, and what we can understand, so they have “included” us by dumbing down the museum experience to our level. This is state-sponsored paternalism masquerading as democratisation"

However who does he think DOES know better? Himself? At any rate the best and most subversive thing he can come up with is to abolish the museum altogether and have them in our living rooms (which made me giggle considering that the desire to blow up all museums is something I have heard mooted by disgruntled PhD students in times of great stress). And of course it is presented as though every museum in the UK is the same. If you want an old fashioned temple to clutter then there are still plenty of museums like that tucked away and if you want a bright, cheerful place with children looking like they are having fun rather than being dragged around unwillingly by their parents then there are museums like that too.

Anyway, I am going to mull over this article for a while longer...


Amy said...

I got half way through the article before I ran out of expletives to shout at my laptop!

Isn't it funny that his arguments for are exactly those which us museologists are rallying against, like top-down history and universalism?

Ceri said...

It annoys me that dominant voices such as these who offer no radical alternative in response except, as you say to return us to the 'dark ages' of museums, get the most press. I offer a challenge to these people to come up with the museum for the future! I bet it would not be half as interesting as the idea I am working on :)

Amy said...

Oooo - that sounds exciting! Interested to see how people respond to the BM TV series. Will it challenge ideas about museums, will it just be seen as a PR exercise?