And why do we university museums so annoyingly feel the need to collect artworks, creating the inevitable drain on resources caused by those pesky stewardship requirements? I offer in answer a fundamental article of faith, that even in the digital age, the sustained engagement with original works of art necessary for teaching, research, and layered learning would be difficult if not impossible if we ceased to be collecting institutions and instead taught only from objects temporarily made available for exhibition.We're sure this discussion isn't over by a long shot, but we would encourage you to go read Steward's entire piece, which is passionate and thoughtful.
In the way that great texts live in our libraries, available for revisiting and sustained scholarly investigation, the works of art in our museums offer the possibility of deep critical engagement, close looking, and technical analysis -- made all the deeper when brought together as collections in which dialogues arise through the conversation of objects with each other and with their scholarly interlocutors. Surely a key role of the academy -- the advancement of new knowledge and the challenging of past knowledge -- is that fruit of curatorial, faculty, and student research made possible by the sustained presence of great works of art, whose survival for the future is also thus (and not incidentally) guaranteed.
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
When responding yesterday to Rudolph Weingartner's column on the deaccessioning at the Rose Museum, we hadn't yet seen James Steward's response in Inside Higher Ed, which is far more eloquent than our dashed off prose and contains some additional excellent points about the value of university museums. He mentions the interdisciplinary nature of the research currently being done and the importance of collaboration across disciplines on campus, calling attention to the fact that even medical schools have found university art museums useful as a training tool for visual acuity. He also puts the answer to "Why collect?" absolutely beautifully: