N.B. I should have posted this post when I first wrote it. By now Alain de Botton’s opinion about museums is all over the place, and way better written (that is: by him) so you’d better read his columns on the Huffington Post or the Museums Association website. Sorry!
It’s been a while since we reflected on the way Lady Gaga or Richard Branson would make your museum top the charts. Recently a book came out by the great thinker and museum babes lover Alain de Botton which provides us with another nice angle on the outsider’s view on museums: secularism.
Religion for Atheists by De Botton is a guidebook to religion’s uses in a secular life. For topics such as community, education and forgiveness it looks at the good religions have to offer so we can enrich our secular existence. It’s a beautiful book, one of the most enlightening works I’ve read in a long while. You get a good sense of the book’s contents and energy from De Botton’s powerful TED talk embedded below.
The presentation also gives some insight in this post’s topic: how Alain de Botton would run a museum. “Our museum of art have become our new churches.” he writes. But they aren’t perfect, “While exposing us to objects of genuine importance, they nevertheless seem incapable of adequately linking these to the needs of our souls.”
- His museum would be a meeting place for strangers, where all sorts of people are encouraged to learn about each other and talk about important topics. Such a museum would battle one of our secular world’s greatest fears: loneliness. Visiting a museum would be like visiting an agape feast.
- The museum would be focused on increasing wisdom, not knowledge. It doesn’t matter that much when an artist lived or the colours he or she used, or the age of a piece of wood and the conditions during its excavation. What matters is how the art and heritage are relevant to our lives and the greater stories they tell.
- Works of art would be grouped together according to the concerns of our soul. There’s a renewed interior design for Tate Modern in the book featuring galleries of love, compassion, suffering and other important themes in our lives we struggle and need most guidance with.
- There’d be a lot of guidance in interpreting difficult works of art. What use is it for an important work of art when it’s meaning is hidden and difficult? Instead, like in Buddhism, visitors would be provided hints as to what to look for in abstract creations.
- The museum would have stunning architecture, but not in the ego-boosting way of a lot of museums (mostly boosting the ego of the architect). The architecture would make us feel small, physically and psychologically, so we can reflect on the larger things in life.
I think Alain de Botton’s museum is a lot like the magnificent Kolumba museum on Cologne. A museum like a secular church where you can reflect on life and its many beauties, and difficulties. Much more subtle that Lady Gaga’s museum, but also way more ambitious. Considering my love for Kolumba, I’d love to visit some more of De Botton’s museums!
Header photo by Trey Ratcliff on Flickr.