A Catalyst for Learning and Unlearning: How Museums Open Our Hearts and Minds

May 18, 2022 | Main Blog | 0 comments

There is something extraordinarily special about the sensation of walking into a museum. Upon stepping inside, one is overwhelmed by a feeling of homecoming, calm, eagerness, serenity and solace that often lingers long after we have walked out. Being surrounded by so much culture, history, knowledge and beauty may open our hearts and minds in a way few other things can.

The Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue said that “beauty is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.” He goes on to claim that beauty “ennobles the heart and reminds us of the infinity that is within us.”

How wonderful it is to have spaces where we can so easily and seamlessly tap into this infinity.

It thus comes as no surprise that every year since 1977, come May 18th, the international community comes together to celebrate International Museum Day, intended to recognize that “museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples.”

Museums are, no doubt, much more than buildings that house art. They are catalysts for culture, enablers of peace, champions of equality, sustainability and education, expertly curated windows into the past and vehicles for both collective introspection and self-discovery. They are spaces that allow us to recognize and appreciate others’ space in the broader narrative of humanity and, simultaneously, weave ourselves into this shared storyline. They are at once about the reverence for the past, the genuine appreciation for the now and the anticipation of the future.

In a museum, the space and the viewer quickly and effortlessly develop a symbiotic relationship — each one feeding off the other. What we see, hear, smell and feel all inform our way of being, and how we choose to henceforth interact with the world.

Art seamlessly connects us to ourselves, to artists, to our environment and to others around us. It can move us to tears, make our hearts leap with joy, fill us with anger and rage, confuse us or overwhelm us with clarity, spark our curiosity and, importantly, make us question that which we believe to be true. It is a catalyst for both learning and, critically, unlearning.

Art is our glimpse into the divine and the closest medium, I would argue, by which we access both the worldly and the eternal.

This is why, I believe, visiting a museum often offers an inescapable sense of grounding and immense pleasure, both derived from simply being in the presence of a piece of art or knowledge that can simultaneously overwhelm us with delight and deeply challenge us.

And so, this May, let us celebrate the vital role that museums play in shaping our collective narrative, in guiding us as we learn and unlearn about ourselves and the world around us. Let us join in celebration of our shared story and of the immense value that lies in history, culture, introspection, mindfulness, learning and, yes, beauty.

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Maria Belen Iturralde

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