Museums and the pure joy of learning

The impact of museums on me 

I began this blog project to learn about museum practice and explore how I might contribute to the museum field. I was excited to explore D.C.’s cultural offerings and consider possible connections between museums, wellbeing, and social service.

Of course, I expected to learn a lot about museum practice. But I was less prepared for the immense casual learning (about art history, art practice, architecture, conservation, history) that my visits would inspire and the happiness this would bring me.

A month ago, I shared this sentiment on Twitter:

Then last week, with my mother visiting from Australia, I had a good excuse to visit several museums without focusing particularly on their relevance to the blog—and my thoughts about museums and the joy of learning crystalized enough for me to write this post. In short, I realized how much my museum expeditions have changed me for the better.

Through my desire to better understand visitor participation, I have become a more avid participator. These days, I can hardly walk past an interactive display, response prompt, or activity without engaging in some way. Along with this heightened interest in participation has come a newfound playfulness and desire to relate. Suddenly, I see opportunities to engage that I would not previously have noticed.

My initially-perfunctory effort to document my visits and provide visuals for the blog through photography has evolved into a genuine quest for beauty, intrigue, and new ways of seeing:

My phone (with its camera) is never far from my reach these days, and I don’t feel like I’m missing any real moments—something I admit I used to see as a reason for not taking photographs.

I have rediscovered some of my childlike awe, most recently, in the stunning presence of Richard Estes’ Realism at Smithsonian American Art Museum, an exhibition that had me continually running over to my companion (my mum, in this case) to point out particular works. I have also experienced a greater willingness to try new things and a deeper interest in ‘process’ and ‘experience.’ For example, I am increasingly eager to attempt art practice as a window into museum programs and collections.

Sketching Rodin's The Age of Bronze at the National Gallery of Art's Drawing Salon

Sketching Rodin’s The Age of Bronze at the National Gallery of Art’s Drawing Salon

While I admit I do tend to gravitate towards art museums, the blog project has helped me expand my horizons, prompting genuine interest in subjects such as architecture, urban planning, and horticulture.

I’m intrigued by these intangible museum visit outcomes, which relate less to specific facts learned and more to the emotional and identity outcomes that learning can inspire. Have you ever experienced emotional or identity outcomes in the museum, including experiences, interests, and realizations that helped you grow? If so, what were they? Museum professionals, do you ever plan for visitors to experience these kinds of outcomes? Have they ever emerged unexpectedly from your evaluations as ‘unanticipated outcomes’ (Stephanie Downey, Intentional Museum)?

This month, as I begin seriously searching for museum employment and volunteer opportunities (work permit in hand at last), I feel grateful to be striving towards a career that will afford me so many opportunities to learn, enquire, feel amazed, and develop myself.

For an aspiring museum professional, the opportunity to attend numerous museum exhibitions and programs has been a gift—and an important part of my professional and emotional education. I believe that all museum professionals and museum studies students should make time for this pursuit, and employers and academic programs should encourage and support this important process.

The opportunity to write has also been important for me, professionally and personally. Writing the blog has brought forth a more candid and expressive and less reserved side of me that has been valuable as I seek to learn from others and exchange ideas.

I look forward to continuing my blog project, and my ongoing personal education.

Enjoying museum architecture through photography while passing by Library of Congress

Enjoying museum architecture through photography while passing by the Library of Congress