Archive for August, 2009

Why do we visit museums?

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Knighthayes Court image

On a recent break, the weather was so wet my family and a friend decided to visit a couple of National Trust properties. The odd thing about these grand properties is that they were, to all intents and purposes, identical. They exhibited the same layout, furnishings and oil paintings with pompous looking nobles staring out of them. One had clearly copied the other. My learned friend and photographer, Neville Stanikk, who came along with us, informed me that other properties he has visited as a National Trust member, were also clones of the two we had just seen. We suspected that the majority of these land owners had no original ideas of their own and conformed to a groupthink mentality within their elitist circles. Neville also told me that he has seen this phenomenon persist today in a lot of the grand private houses he photographs for estate agents.

“They have no personality to them at all. The furnishings and decorations are strictly what is fashionable and what their friends have.” he told me.

But I digress. As I surveyed the historical artefacts in the castles (most of which seemed to be merely a desperate statement of their wealth) I suddenly thought, ‘what am I supposed to do with this knowledge, why do we visit such places?’

My first answer was recreation. Let’s see something we don’t normally see. Then I thought of Austwich and the holocaust museum. Is that recreation?

My other answer was historical curiosity. Let’s see how they lived. On closer inspection though, there was very little historical detail to be had from these properties. The overriding impression to come from the visits was just how desperate these people were to make a statement of their wealth and thus how poor their imaginations were. It begged the question, ’should such intellectually impoverished people have such privilege?’

My final answer was education. Let’s see how we can learn from our past mistakes. Clearly, this is the reason for the holocaust museum, a reminder so that such an atrocity can never happen again (at least that is the hope).

And so, as I left Knigtshayes Court, I had learned from the experience. I realised how obscene the concept of inherited nobility and wealth is. It doesn’t make any sense at all in the light of modern science (I dare say it made no sense in its day either if the concept had been debated honestly enough). It was as if I had just left the holocaust museum. I could see how a system was so badly flawed that it allowed those in power to commit massive abuse and corruption without censure and it was my job to do what I could to make sure it never happened again (of course, I am not suggesting that corruption and abuse are inevitable, but we only need to work from the maxim; absolute power corrupts absolutely to see how things can go astray).