Bravo for Museums

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I have always been a museum freak. I recall when the Houston Museum of Natural Science was a tiny adjunct to the zoo. It featured a handful of artifacts and few dioramas but I still loved the place almost as much as watching the sea lions frolic. I am seriously someone who would enjoy spending an entire day wandering through any kind of museum but I’m the most happy when there are not many people present at the same time that I am. I prefer a quiet and leisurely stroll through exhibits when I am able to read every line of the signs or spend time gazing at the objects on display analyzing every detail. 

My favorite kind of travel either centers on scenery or museums. New York, Washington D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and London were enchanting to me because of the incredible amount of history, science and art that they house. I would return to any of these places in a heartbeat knowing that there are never enough hours to see everything in a single visit and in most cases the exhibits are constantly changing.  

There is something quite exhilarating about seeing the Rosetta Stone in person or gazing at an original painting from Leonardo da Vinci. Those are reverential moments akin to being in a great cathedral. The feelings I experienced standing in the room where the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence is impossible to describe. I am certain that their spirit still hovers in the air. I closed my eyes and could almost hear them debating over how to proceed with their grand experiment in democracy. 

I was once asked to choose my favorite kind of museum and I find that impossible to do. I suppose that history is the most fascinating to me so I’ve particularly enjoyed venues that focus on events of long ago and the ways in which people lived. I often become quite emotionally involved with stories or objects belonging to important figures of long ago but I also like learning about common folk. Humans have been creative and inventive for all time. It seems to be in our DNA to make the world a better place than the way in which we found it.

Nonetheless, I find a visit to an art museum to be enchanting. I sometimes think that art is a sign of humankind’s highest form of intelligence. Certainly building a better society through politics, engineering or science makes us more comfortable but the fact that we have a longing to beautify our environment is rather amazing. It has little to do with keeping us safe or fed or warm. It is seemingly frivolous and yet we have a longing to express ourselves beyond the practical and the results over the centuries have been magnificent. It is through art that we truly rise above the toil of living. 

During the pandemic I have realized how much art has kept my anxieties at bay and prevented my mind from focusing too much on the problems that we all face. Art is a respite that nourishes the soul. It matters not if it is the work of a Renaissance master or the imagination of a modern day pop artist. Art is also film and music and all of the wondrous things that appeal to our senses and set us free from our troubles. I think that we might have gone into a state of national depression without the art that kept us entertained and marveling at the glories of being human.

I never cared much for science as a subject in school but I can’t get enough of the incredible displays of science inside a museum. Whether it features geology or paleontology, medicine or space travel I find exhibits outlining our genius to be captivating. I must admit that I am in awe of the kind of minds that it takes to uncover the secrets of how things work. In truth I do not always understand what the theories or the mechanisms are but I truly appreciate the blood sweat and tear that went into discovering or building them.

I suppose that one day in the future our present era of pandemic will be featured in museums. We we will then see how future generations view the history we have made. Some among us will become known as heroes and others as people unable to meet the challenges of the virus. I have little doubt that we will celebrate the scientists and inventors, the medical experts and those who understood how to challenge the virus and ultimately (I hope) lay it to rest. We will fondly remember the singers, musicians, actors who kept us entertained during our times of isolation. There will be museums celebrating our healthcare workers and first responders. We will remember how important so many of our workers were. Perhaps our whole way of teaching may change and technology will become ever more important. There will be museums about the pandemic and if I’m still around I will most happily visit them and remember this stunning time. 

We treasure the best of our humanity and remember the worst of our temperaments all for the same reason. We need to know where we have been if we are to move forward. We need our museums and soon there will be new ones dedicated to women and people of Latin descent. I am already excited about visiting them. They are treasures that we must always protect for those who come after us. Museums are great.


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