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Why Should We Care?
January 10, 2008 | WSJ.com | By PHILIPPE DE MONTEBELLO.

We all know art and art museums are important. But when it comes to articulating our reasons for this belief, we find it very difficult. We'd love to simply say, like our children, "Just because." When we try to be more specific, we end up with something rather abstract, such as: They are the repositories of precious objects and relics, the places where they are preserved, studied and displayed, which means that museums can be defined quite literally and succinctly, as the memory of mankind...The fact is, in the rooms of our museums are preserved things that are far more than just pretty pictures. These works of art, embodying and expressing with graphic force the deepest aspirations of a time and place, are direct, primary evidence for the study and understanding of mankind.... if we find our identity through works of art, then we have to identify them correctly, and works of art are not easy to decipher. They don't come with installation kits, lists of ingredients, and certificates of origin. In order to determine the time and place of their genesis, we have to ask of them: Who made them, where, when and why?

The answers to these questions are anything but obvious, because very few artistic traditions are pure -- that is, uninflected by outside influences. So, confronted with a work of art, we must be sure of its origin....The art museum then plays a key and beneficial role in teaching us humility, in making us recognize that other, very different yet totally valid civilizations have existed and do exist right alongside our own..in attempting to answer the question "why should we care?" I'd like to suggest a final, more broadly significant lesson. It is mankind's awe-inspiring ability, time and again, to surpass itself. What this means is that no matter how bleak the times we may live in, we cannot wholly despair of the human condition.
museums  art  value_propositions  provenance  artifacts  sublime  sense_of_proportion  galleries  art_galleries  humility  inspiration  interpretation  sense-making  Philippe_de_Montebello  the_human_condition 
august 2012 by jerryking
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