The frustration with professionalism, and why not to listen to me

“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.

Givenchy-2015-New-York-Fashion-Week-Show (1)

Haute couture regularly places itself against a history-inspired backdrop. It is as if fashion needs the “structure” of memory as a foil for its rule-breaking. Notice the corseted women in the painting at the center looking on – as the contemporary models are bound by nothing but a few buttons and ties.


In many cases, these images need the fragmentation of history in order for contemporary re-evaluation to be recognizable. Notice the mantel and clock as a fragmented image taken out of context. As Henri Bergson stated – “frames within frames”. The model seems to slide off the red silk covered chair, as if to suggest that history can no longer accommodate the needs of contemporary life.

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.


We seem to be in an era I would label as the “fetish of the everyday”. I am one who finds this fascination of the messy, complex and idiosyncratic as a needed expansion of what culture values as environmental beauty. Nothing about this environment can be categorized from a purist taxonomic perspective.


My interest in environments of habitation are not limited to any distinct perspective. As shown in this Elle Decor image, I am often drawn into environments that are fueled by the dialogue between history and current fashion (not categories of appropriateness).

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?

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 9.08.41 AM

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.

OAS-conf-call-2012Sept BMCRP_NCDAH_albersJosef_classes6 Art-School-For-All-See-The-Creative-Future-Of-Education-At-This-Historic-Black-Mountain-Exhibit

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.

10496110_10206483631957625_906004569024097112_o  IMG_3236  dsc_00112Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 11.36.02 AM

Copyright © 2016 Twisted Preservation| “Twisted Preservation”, “One-night Stand”, “Sleeping Around” are trademarks of Franklin D. Vagnone. All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s