Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Museums as Secular Temples

Alain de Botton:
You sometimes hear it said that art museums are our new churches. But, in practice, art museums abdicate much of their potential to function as new churches (places of consolation, meaning, community and redemption) through the way they handle the collections entrusted to them. While exposing us to objects of importance, they nevertheless seem unable to frame these in a way that links them powerfully to our inner needs.

What if modern museums of art kept in mind the example of the didactic function of Christian art? A walk through a museum of art should amount to a structured encounter with the ideas that it is easiest for us to forget but which are most essential and life-enhancing to remember. The challenge is to rewrite the agendas for our art museums so that collections can begin to serve the needs of psychology as effectively as they served those of theology, for centuries. Curators should attempt to put aside their deepseated fears of instrumentalism and once in a while co-opt works of art to an ambition of helping us to get through life. Only then would museums be able to claim that they had fulfilled completely the excellent but as yet elusive ambition of becoming substitutes for churches in a secularising society.

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