“The Soul never thinks without a picture”
Have you ever wondered why emojis and memes became so popular and how they can communicate so many words, feelings, and concepts through a single image? Or have you ever thought about why the often-used phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words” has been so enduring? This quote is popularly believed to be originated by an American advertising executive, Fred R. Barnard. However, he was also quoted as saying that the first time he came across it was from an “ancient” Japanese writer. This article is intended to begin an exploration of the lasting influence of the visual image and how this relates to the Museum Industry, The Role of Curator, and Art History Narratives.
The philosophy-olympiade website states that ‘if the soul thinks in images, there is a logical indication that our thoughts are also always based in images which are both shaping and shaped by our perceptions.’
Why is all of this important? Because it relates to the profoundly powerful influence that images have on our psyches and lives, as well as the transpersonal development of our communal societies and collective conscience; a concept that can be referred to as “Aesthetic Force” or more simply the “Power of Art to Move You.” It is a current topic discussed at length within the Art World. (For those interested in learning more specifically about Aesthetic Force, I recommend the most recent book, The Rise, by Art Historian Dr. Sarah Lewis.)
As this topic is quite vast and not easily covered in one article, this is the beginning of a year-long series dedicated to exploring various trending topics related to MuseumCraft and Art History. These will include Archaeomythology, the psychology of perception, issues involving Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) within the Museum Industry, the Curatorial process, and more.
Within this series, Musea will continue to revisit themes that ask us to consider the relationship between Intentional Creativity as it pertains to our relationships with image and word, as well as the Museum Field. Some of the questions that are the most pertinent for me right now are the following: how does Intentional Creativity support the process of becoming an artist and how can we identify our most significant influences, what is the importance of connecting with our personal creative lineages, and how can we discern when the power of image is being used for nefarious purposes.
When I consider the intersecting fields of Art, Art History, and MuseumCraft combined with what it has all meant for human development, it is daunting in its scope plus difficult to know where to begin. However, as someone with a background in Counseling Psychology and a specialization in expressive arts therapy, as well as a Color of Women Intentional Creativity Teacher, this matters to me. I have been a lover of the arts since childhood, and I feel deeply passionate about the healing power of creativity. Therefore, when I had the exciting opportunity to become a Co-curator for Musea’s Museum, I happily dove right in. Unsurprisingly, it has proven to be an enlightening path for furthering my learning and an incredible progression of developing my artist archetype. What has been surprising is just how much being part of the Co-curator team would help me find my soul-work and gain a greater understanding of the full extent of how Art is a hugely impactful form of activism. It has been exciting to see the role that Musea Intentional Creativity Museum plays and will continue to play in art activism. It has also inspired me to think about Museums, the Museum Field, and the Curation Process in ways I hadn’t previously. Through this work, I have become informed about critical questions to hold as I continue to be a Musea member, in my role as a Co-curator, and personally as a frequent visitor to various Museums.
The questions we ask here at Musea are emergent within the Museum Field, especially regarding social justice, inclusion, and equity. Throughout the past few years, they have become more prioritized within MuseumCraft, and I want to share my personal reflections as a co-curator on this exciting, emotional, and thought-provoking journey.
In asking myself where to begin, I decided it would be best to start by sharing some basic historical background information about Museums which will be framed more in the context of inquiry than answers. I’m introducing conceptual sparks, which I hope will become fruitful discussions that we as a community of artists can engage in throughout this series. Here are a few questions that are currently on my mind:
- How have certain Museums traditionally acquired particular collections?
- Who gets to make the significant decisions about what is “good enough” to be presented as art or historical artifact to the public?
- Who doesn’t get a say in these decisions?
- How does this line of inquiry relate to Colonialism and Decolonization as it pertains to how our collective Art History story has been dictated to us.
First however, before moving forward, I’m including a brief description of Musea’s history. Musea is part of a two-decade long art movement with physical locations and in-person plus virtual educational offerings. Through the years, occasional physical exhibit shows were also offered, and the first virtual show was delivered at the UNCSW in 2013. With the advent of Covid, our physical museum needed to close to in-person visits so in May of 2020, the virtual museum branch of Musea was born through the Intentional Creativity Foundation (founded by Shiloh Sophia and Jonathan McCloud in 2016). Within the direction of the McClouds and under the guidance of Amber Gould, the co-curator Docent team was created during the summer of 2020. Musea has since curated monthly virtual exhibits throughout the 2020-2021 season and is proud to continue offering a full calendar of Museum Programming including monthly exhibits for the 2022 season. Musea also became a member of the American Alliance of Museums in its opening year. (If you would like to hear more about Musea’s history, you can look under “Our Story” on the Website menu)
Museums & the Museum Industry
The Museum Field has begun to recognize the need for transformation in considering and implementing new standards of best practices that center issues of Anti Racism, Decolonialization, and Inclusion. Still, it’s essential to first look back at some historical problems, which will hopefully help inform future museum membership conversations.
In thinking about these issues, I realized I wanted to start by giving a detailed description of what seems like a very obvious question, which is, what exactly is a Museum? I hadn’t really ever given it much thought beyond envisioning impressive buildings that housed famous works of art or artifacts. However when I did a quick google search, I realized that there is more to it than that and the definitions continue to evolve.
- Basic Dictionary Definition: a building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are displayed. (the definition I would have given prior to becoming a co-curator)
- A more comprehensive definition: A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates, and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.
- Museums have varying aims, ranging from serving researchers and specialists to serving the general public.
When I read these expanded definitions, I am struck by a couple of things. The first is ”communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity,” which emphasizes to me the tremendous influence that Museums have had on civilization by deciding what is and what is not the history that will be preserved and recorded. Therefore, deciding which stories will be told and which stories get mostly left out or entirely buried. Until relatively recently, within the Art History world, the stories told have primarily been from the point of view of the dominant ruling class versus the perspective of the conquered and oppressed.
Secondly, the phrasing that Museums had “varying aims” made me wonder about the intentionality of Museums. Maybe they began as straightforward containers for the archives of various civilizations but transformed from the recorders of history to the biased dictators of it as well. They began deciding what in the Zeitgeist was worthy enough for us to pay attention to, and what we should accept as the only true narrative of an unfolding story. These monumental decisions were made primarily by wealthy, privileged, highly educated, Caucasian men from within the dominant ruling class colonizer viewpoint, which brings me to the enormous significance of Curators.
In thinking about this, I became curious about the origin story of the first Museum and Museum Curator, so I did another quick google search, and this is what I found. Unsurprisingly, there are some differing opinions about what the oldest Museum is, but there does seem to be a consensus among art historians that its narrowed down to two of them. One is the Capitoline museum in Rome.
The other museum, and I have to admit the one that captured my interest the most, is the Ennigaldi-Nanna’s Museum, discovered by one of the most prominent archeologists of the early 20th century, Sir Charles Leonard Wooley. Below is a brief description taken from Wikipedia. (As you read it, I also invite you to guess why this particular description of the oldest museum might have, as a co-curator of a women’s museum, enchanted my imagination.)
When archeologists excavated certain parts of the palace and temple complex at Ur they determined that the dozens of artifacts, neatly arranged side by side, whose ages varied by centuries, were actually museum pieces – since they came with what was finally determined to be “museum labels”. These consisted of clay cylinder drums with labels in three different languages. Ennigaldi’s father Nabonidus, an antiquarian and antique restorer, taught her to appreciate ancient artifacts. Her father is known as the first serious archeologist and influenced Ennigaldi to create her educational antiquity museum. She used the museum pieces to explain the history of the area and to interpret material aspects of her dynasty’s heritage.
Were you able to guess the reason for my delight at this finding? If it is because it describes how the first-ever Curator known to the history of Museums was, in fact, a Woman then you are correct! I find this so inspiring because what happened in fast-forwarding through several centuries is that the Museum field, and the role of museum Curator, became almost entirely dominated by men and still is to this day. The vast scope of exploration of the how and the why that happened isn’t feasible for this article. However, I want to suggest that Musea, in its capacity as a small start-up Museum rooted in its own deep Matriarchal Art Lineage, is helping to bring the story of women in the arts and their role as story keepers from their feminist perspective back around full circle.
More on the Role of a Curator
It’s important to note that just as the Museum field is changing, so is the role of a Curator. For context, here is the fundamental dictionary definition of a Curator, which is simply “a keeper or custodian of a museum or other collection.” However, when looking more deeply, the definition expands.
A curator is a manager or overseer. When working with cultural organizations, a curator is typically a “collections curator” or an “exhibitions curator” and has multifaceted tasks dependent on the particular institution and its mission.
Definition by IESA Arts & Culture (International Studies in History and Business of Art & Culture):
The general responsibilities of an Art Curator are as follows: acquiring, collecting, and cataloging works of art, as well as ensuring their overall care.
As well as the necessary skills for the critical study of works of art and artistic productions regarding their acquisition, production, brokerage, communication, and trade.
With the advent of social media, there is an even newer definition:
“Social media content curation is simply filtering through all the interesting content across the web and sharing the best news, articles, videos, and infographics on your social channels. To curate, is to collect it.”
As I searched through these definitions, two thoughts occurred to me. The first was that, before my Co-curator experiences, I had given very little thought to the role of a Curator. What it means to be a curator, how they have impacted every single Museum I’ve ever visited, and now even how they’ve impacted my viewing experiences on sites like Instagram. My second thought was about just how powerful this role is and the impact the people in this job have had on civilization. Essentially they have been like society’s earliest “influencers”.
There are many different directions we could go in with discussions on just this topic alone, but for now, I will propose this: given all that influence, is it not critical that we begin to look at the importance of having Curators we can entrust to tell multifaceted societal stories with integrity? Who will not abuse the power of the position? Those who hold a steadfast dedication to emergent practices in DEAI through their curation? It feels more important than ever that we develop critical thinking skills, astute viewership, skillful storytelling, and authentic listening so that we no longer continue outsourcing that job to what has traditionally been a very privileged few with the narrowest of perspectives. Instead, we can develop those skills of discernment for ourselves including how to assess the extent of which we are in alignment with the person curating the information we are letting into our hearts and minds.
The work of Shiloh Sophia and the Musea Collective through Intentional Creativity seeks to provide education on how to do just that. First as individual artists through consciousness development; then, those who feel called to do so become teachers to bring that education to other individuals, groups, organizations, and communities. Musea is a Living Museum that is continually evolving through emergent information about best practices within the overarching field of Museum Craft and actively listening to the voices within our Intentional Creativity community and Membership. While consistently holding the belief that Art can be many things including portals to greater self insight and self expression. In that sense, we are all co-curators. The Museum is the container that supports this work through its Mission, permanent collections, and in-person plus virtual online exhibits while intending a legacy of telling a much more multifaceted side to the Art History story. We are creating an interwoven narrative as an artists’ collective as we move together into the future.
This is the first in a series of articles on the history of Museums and Curation that explores the cultural, spiritual, and societal impacts of these fields by Magazine Lead and Cocurator, Jessica Richmond. Stay tuned for more on this topic in the coming months!