On being shushed (twice) inside the museum: Expectations and experience.
Museums are complex structures that serve multiple purposes. Mental stimulation, knowledge acquisition, cultural enrichment, visual enjoyment and, for many, stress and anxiety relief. Museums and art galleries are havens of calmness, but also, importantly, places of delight. I like to think of them as essential environments of wellbeing.
The museum experience is historically associated with a respectful, reverential silence. From the moment we cross that threshold, we are told and reminded to keep the noise down. I, for one, am hugely appreciative of the respite from the noise pollution of the outside world. And whenever a soundtrack was provided, I often found it unnecessary, if not annoying. The power of silence and all that.
There is however a line that should not be crossed. That is when the museum becomes a place where we are being made to tiptoe and whisper like unwelcome guests, where the unmeasurable and fundamental value that lies in the exchange of ideas and emotions is crushed by the nonsensical application of unwritten rules by overzealous staff. Yesterday, that line was crossed, twice.
Standing before a stunning Parmigianino. I was talking - not shouting, talking - to my cousins about the formal revolution of Mannerism and its visual departure from the realism of the Renaissance. The elongated necks, the tapering fingers, the compositional disarray, the contorted poses, the outrageously sensuous treatment of the sacred figures. That's when a member of staff approached us and shushed me, petulantly instructing me to keep it down, that were not the only people in the museum. I've been going to museums since I was a toddler, I KNOW the etiquette. But if we are silenced into intellectual submission and prevented from sharing our emotions and appreciation for what's in front of us, then what are museums really for?
Madonna col Bambino e i Santi Margherita, Girolamo e Petronio
Francesco Mazzola aka Parmigianino, 1529