“Faced with any new object, reason asks, ‘in which of its earlier categories the new object belongs? In which ready-to-open drawer shall we put it? With which ready-made garments shall we invest it?’ Because, of course, a ready made garment suffices to clothe a poor rationalist.”
The Poetics of space, Gaston Bachelard, from Henri- Louis Bergson, L’ Evolution creatrice, pg. 52, 1907.
As I sat there, listening in on a discussion regarding implementing changes to a historic house museum’s interpretation and furnishings plan, one of the team members (whom I value greatly) stated: “I don’t want to do this piecemeal – I want to figure it out with a plan and then move on it”. In every part of this statement, my excitement, imagination, and energy was hammered into an unwelcomed shape; The shape of reason, measured contemplation, and rationality, “Of course”, I thought, “to do this properly, one must rationally think about the entire organism, prioritize the parts, organize the issues, categorize the projects, and then (and only then) should one implement anything.” I remained quiet. Of course my colleague was correct. So why did I disagree?
It was at that moment that, as often occurs, the harsh little voice in my head (I call him Gollum) reminded me of two things. One, that something is wrong with me – how much of another species I am from my fellow lovers of historic house museums, and Two, what a SHAM I really am.
Why a sham? Because instead of reading some important museum publication for guidance, I am looking at the New York Times Style Magazine, W, Elle Decor, and Apartmento. I usually find professional publications so rational and, as Bachelard explains, “complexualistic”, that it leaves me with no place for my imagination, no place for my creativity. The drawers of the conceptual cabinet are all labeled and filled with the appropriate contents before I even get a chance to open it and see what’s inside. What’s that about?
Does this mean that, in order for me to be a professional, I have to accept the labeled drawers? Is my only option to re-arrange the pre-determined contents of the drawers – but never allowed to empty the contents onto the floor in one big pile; mix them?
What if I want to arrange my books by color of the dust jacket and not by the author’s last name? Does that make me silly? Immature? Irrational? Fuzzy? There are other ways of operating and interpreting environments that are outside of normative professional practice.
Given the world of historic sites, I wouldn’t listen to me either. It is by no accident that the most important component to my professional understanding of historic house museums is EXPERIENCE. Within that, I wonder how IMAGINATION, ENERGY, and EXCITEMENT are fostered. Notice that I am not suggesting that curatorial, interpretive taxonomic structure or pedagogic theories are the basis for a successful historic site.
I have valued the way the Black Mountain College (North Carolina, 1933 – 1956) set out to redefine arts education, I feel like that deep re-assessment could be useful for our historic sites.
You have been warned – professional rationality is not my goal.
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