Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

The Museum Experience

September 15, 2009 · No Comments

I went back to the National Gallery and was blown away by a painting: The Toilet of Venus by Diego Velázquez. The painting shows the the naked goddess Venus, looking at herself in the mirror, which is being held by her son, Cupid. Every time I went to the National Gallery, I passed it by. I do not why, but this time, I looked at it, and I just thought it was so powerful. I wondered why I had not seen it before. Why didn’t I noticed it the first time I visited London some years ago? I think sometimes, as we change, so is the way we observe things. Maybe, I was not ready to see it at the time.

Very similarly, I went to the National Portrait Gallery and realized I had a totally different experience than when I visited the place for the first time. I also went to the exhibit “Londoners Through a Lens” at the Getty Images Gallery near Oxford Circus. Comparing the two, I felt that portraits spoke to me much more than pictures. Not only should I mention that they are incredibly well done, but also, that they express so much more about the actual person, because you can just see how the painter views him or her. I specially enjoyed the portrait of Germaine Greer, a feminist advocate. I like how none of these portraits are condescending, but speak only the truth about those in the image. They also catch the subject in his or her natural habitat. There is nothing artificial about them, even if they are not pictures. 

The main comparison I wanted to make in this post though, is between the Imperial War Museum and the Royal Air Force Museum. People usually think that the Imperial War describes English military history (there was even a big debate on whether to change its name or not). However, except for a few tanks displayed in the centre, most of the Museum deals with how the population suffered because of wars, particularly through the Holocaust gallery and the crimes against humanity gallery. Of course there could be a debate here over whether the a Holocaust gallery in an English museum is coherent or appropriate at all. Without getting into Holocaust Studies and how Holocaust museums have been created and grown almost exponentially in the past few years, I want to ask myself: Is the Museum trying to claim that England is in some way responsible for the Holocaust ever happening? After all, many would say that the Second World War was a direct consequence of the First World War which had its origins in imperialism, and England as the main empire. This is certainly very debatable, but it was just a thought…

Very differently, the Royal Air Force Museum displays a vast amount of military artifacts and describes English military history and technological advancement. The Museum does not include civilians at all.  However, they are both free, and they both deal with war.

As we see, we can draw many conclusions by comparing museums which have a similar theme. I also enjoyed comparing the programs for children and family that these museums have since I work at the Education Outreach office of the Trout Gallery at Dickinson, and I always like getting new ideas.

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