Saturday, August 4, 2012

Brightly, Not Up-Tightly --- Day 210

Walk: Mindful Body, Fillmore Street
Distance: 2 miles and teach yoga

Recent trips to Sacramento and Oakland museums as well as the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco docent training program nudged me toward reading a bit about the the history of museums of Western civilizations. (Which is made so easy now by Wikipedia.  Love and use Wiki so much that I make a monthly donation).

Turns out the Western museums of ancient times, such as the Museaum of Alexandria, would be equivalent to a modern graduate institute. These museums began as private collections of art, rare/curious natural objects and artifacts by wealthy/ruling individuals, families or institutions.  Public access was very limited but was possible for the 'respectable' largely at the whim of the collector or his staff.  The oldest 'public' museums opened in Rome during the Renaissance, but most of the significant Western museums (British Museum, Uffizi, Hermitage, Louvre, etc.) weren't founded until the 18th century and the Age of Enlightenment.

These 'public' museums, however, were often accessible only by the middle and upper classes. Even for them it could be difficult to gain entrance. In London for example prospective visitors to the British Museum had to apply in writing for admission.  Even by 1800 it was possible to have to wait two weeks for an admission ticket. Visitors in small groups were limited to stays of two hours.  In Victorian times in England it became popular for museums to be open on Sunday afternoons (the only facility allowed to do so) to enable the opportunity for "self-improvement" for other/working classes. The Ashmolean museum at Oxford University was actually set up to be open to the public and is considered by some to be the first modern public institution.

There is much more information about the restrictive nature of most early museums, but the little I learned answered a question I realized I've had for a long time: Why one encounters so much pretentiousness in museums - especially art museums.  I remember that peculiar haughtiness as a child and could not understand what it was about.  Some of my friends lived in houses that weren't unlike museums and where life was just normal and lived.  So why were all the adults in the museums acting so scoldy and strange?

And then I encountered it again in spades in the docent training where it became one of the reasons I decided against continuing.  That old sense of "specialness" "exclusivity" "superiority" "aristocracy" has silently filtered down from old Alexandria I guess.  Many have - correctly I believe -  let go of these attitudes, but some people connected with museums continue to confer upon themselves an aura of specialness and precious remove.    Interesting to me....


The very last person to act pretentious was Jerry Garcia who would have celebrated (or had anyway) his 70th Birthday on August 1.  He died in 1995, but his spirit is very, very much alive amongst musicians of all ages and throngs of people who encountered him and still do as his music continues out into the world.  There was a 5-hour live stream tribute concert last night preceded by a fine half hour of interviews by musicians who have been influenced by him. Many millions worldwide were tuned in.  It was organized, hosted and played in by his friend and Grateful Dead co-founder, Bob Weir, who joined twenty or so other well-known musicians young and old.  There wasn't one wrong - pretentious, over-emotive, whatever - note on any level during the whole tribute. 

move me brightly

Bob Weir and Mike Gordon perform during the 'Move Me Brightly'
70th Birthday Tribute for Jerry Garcia at TRI Studios, San Rafael,
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