Both in the readings for class and in my interview, I came across the phrase “unmitigated experience” in relation to one of the ways that visitors can take in a museum. To me an “unmitigated experience” is an experience where the museum does not tell the visitor any information, but instead lets him/her view the objects, and decide for himself/herself what the meaning behind them is. I have two problems, or rather questions related to this: Can a museum experience ever truly be unmitigated? Then secondly, Should a museum experience be completely unmitigated.
First, if a museum is the one creating the exhibit and laying out the placement of objects, isn’t the experience already mitigated? The museum is influencing not only what the visitors are seeing but also the context in which they are seeing it. A pair of scissors in the garden can create a completely different narrative than a pair of scissors in a sewing room. Unless objects are just placed in glass cases around the room, visitors interpretations of their meanings are always going to be influenced by what they see and the context they see the object within. If you throw in labels the question gets even more confusing, which leads to my second question.
Should museum offer completely unmitigated experiences? If museums are educational institutions that are trusted for being very factual, do they have a responsibility to try and prevent people from misinterpreting what they see? There are plenty of objects that a person can see and have no idea what they are used for, so in turn draw a incorrect assumption about what they are and what their purpose was. As educational institutions do museums have the responsibility to make sure this does not happen, if at all possible.
Both of these questions, especially the last one, got me thinking very hard, and I came to the conclusion that maybe a person drawing a wrong conclusion is not the end of the world, but in fact represents something good. I had a few reasons for this conclusion. While taking to the museum professional I was interviewing, she said that one of the main educational goals of her museum was to get people thinking critically about the world around them. This makes sense to me, people should question what they see. Thus, by letting people observe objects without labels, museums are forcing people to think critically about what they see and draw a conclusion. Furthermore, she said something that really stuck home with me. She said that in the end its about sparking interest. Its about getting people interested in what they see so they want to learn more. That resonated with me strongly. If an unmitigated experience challenges people, gets them thinking, asking questions, and looking for answers, I think that has a stronger and better impact on the person and society than simply presenting facts. By inspiring people to think and learn on their own, we as museum people are sending people out into the world with skills that are continually useful and applicable in all circumstances.
The truth is important and people trust museums to give them that, but maybe even more important is teaching people how to be critical thinkers and analyze the world around themselves.