• John Diamond-Nigh

#Museum: becoming human is an art

Three excerpts, no, four, from the week past. Then we’ll talk about them. I’ve made you coffee.

1 Becoming human is an art. (Patti Smith)

2 In his novel The Innocence of Objects (Nobel-prize-winning Orhan), Pamuk lays out a manifesto for museums. In it, he calls for exchanging “large national museums such as the Louvre and the Hermitage for smaller, more individualistic, and cheaper museums, telling stories in the place of histories.”

3 I’ve taken long walks craving one thing only: lightening, transformation, you. (Adam Zagajewski)

4 I wish we’d get rid of all categories in art. (Classical pianist Vikingur Olafsson)

5 Imagination makes knowledge through art practice in any medium. (Susan Rowland)

Okay, we could just leave this as a pleasant palette of art penseés. Or try to stitch them together.

How would you do it?

Let’s start first with 2. Pamuk not only imagines a small museum, he has made one in Istanbul. It exhibits objects that are all to be found in his novel, The Innocence of Objects. So interesting: Pamuk finds a matchbook or an earring on the sidewalk. He weaves a tale around it that is then integrated into the novel. Through implantation into his fiction, the object acquires global renown, turns into a sacred relic. People want to see it. Remember, the matchbook was found in a gutter.

But his larger idea, that museums are way too big and should get smaller is one I’ve talked about here before. Who even goes to the Louvre anymore? The crowds, mostly there to shoot selfies, are as oppressive as Savannah in July. I have contrasted the sterility of many museums with the frequent sacred vitality of a mass in a cathedral, where all senses, all arts, are united in one numinous symphony. How do we get that combinatorial holiness from cathedral to museum? Many ways––let me count the ways––but staying small can only abet that objective.

In all the quotes above, there abides a notion of art as a becoming, a making, a transformation. In the case of 4, Olafsson sees the old categories both in music and, more generally, in art as constraining fences, inhibitors in the expansion of art toward greater and greater freedom, blockers in that vital job of making knowledge. Think of Pamuk, making his museum. Making objects through the transmutation of art.

Rowland intrigues me very much. She is a Jungian scholar. She sees art as a continually revitalizing fountain that rises from the mysteries of the mind, drawing up truths. But that truth is not just mail you put in a mailbox. It has to be worked, fashioned, made into legible form with the same rigor that science employs in making its own particular species of knowledge. Museums could help. End selfies; grow small; get rid of Epstein money; offer admission I still could afford.

I’ll end with that loveliest of lines. A long walk toward transformation. Toward being and becoming human (Smith). Toward you.

Photograph: Thomas Struth