Museums Require Civil Society
I just came back from the supermarket. At the supermarket, a woman was having a very loud conversation. Her hair covered her ears, so you couldn’t tell she was speaking to someone on an ear microphone. It was disconcerting. I was in the vegetable section, and all the other people in the area were looking at each other, unsure if the woman was speaking to us. It was awkward because she was speaking loudly, and she was also using profanity. She was sometimes angry and difficult to listen to, but she spoke so loudly it was impossible not to hear. I didn’t know what to do, and looking at other people in the supermarket, you could tell by their expressions they didn’t know what to do either.
It got me thinking about museums. Museums require a civil society, and civil society doesn’t necessarily need museums. In museums, we stand before a painting, an interactive exhibit, or a mural, and we each take time to absorb it. Then, we step back to let other people have a chance to do the same. We also wait our turn; sometimes, we exchange smiles with strangers at the gallery, acknowledging each other. It’s a unique and essential part of museums to look each other in the eye with mutual respect. This is an integral part of civil society, where we respect each other. What I witnessed in the supermarket was challenging to process because she wasn’t acknowledging us, and we couldn’t acknowledge her.
I’ve noticed this trend recently in supermarkets and when driving or doing other things in public.
Years ago, I worked at a museum company that had a silent partner. The silent partner was a wealthy investor primarily invested in stocks and bonds. When I visited him at his office, he showed me books that charted the stock market's growth. He believed the stock market moved in waves: bull and bear markets. But overall, the market continues to grow, albeit with peaks and valleys. It isn’t easy to go against the curve. If you’re in a bear market, saving money is better. I often think of this analogy when observing various aspects of life.
Lately, I’ve observed more overt displays of affluence and self-expression, like people driving large SUVs or sporting tattoos and piercings. These are signals, whether of dominance, wealth, or individuality.