Marrying Art and History

Letting Go? Reading Part 2

The bulk of our readings this week dealt with using artistic interpretations to tell history. I am not a particularly artistic person. I dapple in music, I can style a room, and I immensely enjoy theatre…but that is where my artistic abilities end. Despite my lack of ability, I deeply appreciate the arts and I enjoyed reading how artists were contributing to the historical field. I agree with Koloski in “Embracing the Unexpected”, that “creating genuinely interdisciplinary experiences for our visitors could be one way forward as we seek to engage their curiosity, and in the end, provide them with greater access to deeper and more potent historical and cultural experiences” (p. 280).

I loved the Mining the Museum project. The levels of learning there were so multifaceted! Taking artifacts (which are by themselves objects that promote learning) and arranging them in a way that not only showcases societiy’ biases and shortcomings, but also the museum’s, was such an interesting way to make an argument. I also enjoyed the Black Bottom project presented at University of Pennsylvania. Theatre is powerful and I am a sucker for historical fiction. I would love to be a part of this kind of exhibition.

That being said, I think bringing artists into a museum must be done with much care and planning. Curators, professors, and researchers have a depth of historical knowledge and skill that just cannot be trumped by a few months of specific research done by an artist. It seems like many of the artists that we read about in this week’s selection worked closely with museum staff to research and create a story. I applaud these efforts. I would caution against allowing an artist to present an exhibit as history without any oversight. For example, Fred Wilson, creator of Mining the Museum project, indicated that he was “not for shared authority”, which I find troubling. His exhibit was about exposing holes in the Maryland museum’s collection, so I think he is mostly justified in not wanting to share authority with the museum’s staff. However, it is important that artists understand that their artistic interpretation has an obligation to be truthful and inclusive. In order to promote innovative presentations that are also accurate, museums must carefully select and work with artists.

One thought on “Marrying Art and History”

  1. I completely agree with your comment on Wilson and shared authority. Maybe it can be interpreted in different ways, but I thought his role in critiquing the museum and placing the reality of slavery into the museum for an audience that was used to the absence of it was in some ways an example of sharing the museum’s interpretive authority. Perhaps he would prefer to think of it as subverting authority rather than sharing it.

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