Of Museums, Art, and Souls | Teen Ink

Of Museums, Art, and Souls

April 23, 2019
By Julianna.S GOLD, Tirana, Other
Julianna.S GOLD, Tirana, Other
17 articles 0 photos 28 comments

Many people enter museums without really knowing what they are meant to do once inside. They roll their eyes as they tend to equate the quiet and solitude that museums offer with boredom and isolation. But the truth is, museums are our society’s preeminent cultural institutions for learning. Entering museums, stepping through the huge doorways into the breathtaking atriums, gives us a feeling of exhilaration at the anticipation of great things to come. We are connecting with the elders, we are acquiring historical knowledge, and our voices immediately drop to a whisper as we are ready to experience awe and inspiration. Museums are places where we experience the objects, the artworks, that hold culture together: objects that have lived through history and have survived.

But there are people that rather scornfully will question the very usefulness of these artifacts. Can it feed the poor? Can it end armed conflict? Can it solve global warming? The answer is quite obviously no, and in response to such assaults, museums’ answer seems to be one of defensive pride, “Art is for art’s sake,” too important to be merely useful. But art was never created out of inutility and lack of purpose. We need art because we are more than than just a mouth to feed, or a materialistic need to be satisfied. We need art because to live well we need wisdom, balance, perspective, and to be told we’re not alone in our moment of grief. The art in museums is there to reassure us that other people before us faced the same adversities. It's there to present concepts of gravity in a seductive form, and to remind us of what we so easily tend to forget.

Hegel defined art as the “sensuous presentation of ideas.” Botticelli’s Virgin and Child at the Louvre is a reminder of what matters. The harmony of colors and mastery of elegant lines is pure art, but not for art’s sake. It reminds us of what we have to treasure and be grateful for: the love of a mother for her child, the playfulness and innocence of happy memories that we forget to revisit, the look of adoration and total acceptance that comes from the eyes of parental love. We need art for the proper functioning of our souls, because it is so easy to forget what truly matters.

To many, museums seem painfully slow and antiquated in their lack of physical interactivity. Caught up in our eternally busy lives, we suffer from too much stimulation and distraction and we fail to notice life as it happens and its many charms. As Albert Einstein put it, “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.” Monet’s Water Lilies at the l’Orangerie forces us to do the opposite of a video game. It forces us not to do something, to just stand there. There is no next level. We've reached the apex. Our attention is drawn to the glorious visions we have overlooked, our eyes open anew to the world: a world that we recognize as our own, yet is uncommonly novel in its impression of beauty.

Our modern lives are made of selfies and instas that offer as visual beauty a misguided enthusiasm and value for pop culture’s latest “things”. It appears normal to desire shiny, trendy, and expensive objects and to be left cold by the seemingly ordinary. But museums offer us the joy that comes from taking a second look: appreciating the beauty of the ordinary as opposed to buying and possessing. Museums remind us that we fail to open our eyes adequately, that we feel drained and unhappy because we forget to see. We go to museums because it helps us remember and feel truths we already know.

As we lead lives full of deadlines and demands, museums are the antidote to feeling unbalanced and fickle. A museum offers the serene, contemplative space and the quiet we need to achieve balance. It is a sacred space because it is so different from the space and time we experience in our daily lives. There are no interruptions to its pleasure. The dithering mind that could not see its way ahead, achieves a state of tranquillity as it follows a steady and smooth path guided by art.

In one of my such busy days, stopping in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre became the same as stopping in front of a mythical mirror. I realized that I share the same face features with the most celebrated painting in the world: a painting that most of my teenage friends would hardly consider an Instagram influencer. But in front of a timeless image of a woman, I felt the desire to build my own self-narrative, my own identity. I wished that one day, when I grow older, I would wear my life experiences on my face with the same serenity as her. I felt the desire to connect and orient my future according to the highest of ideals. I felt assured by the decency of what I already have and how I look as I am: standing in front of that pure art I felt self-love.

In an odd but very important way, a museum is not just a place we go to connect with history or art, but instead, it stands as a reflection into the soul of man, into the things that really matter, which are universal and common to us all.

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