On the Brink of Irrelevance?

Art Museums In Contemporary Society
  • Douglas Worts
Part of the Landscapes: The Arts, Aesthetics, and Education book series (LAAE, volume 2)


Traditionally, art and visual culture have provided opportunities for individuals to connect to the deeper cultural reality of a group. By living with and reflecting deeply on the symbols of culture, individuals developed more or less of a personal consciousness of the world in which they lived. As our modern world of specialization evolved over recent centuries, art has been increasingly housed in museums - largely because of its objectified value, both economic and intellectual, which had to be protected - thus removing the art from any integrated form of symbolic experience in the lives of individuals. Today, there is a profound public need and desire for symbolic experience that can re-connect individuals at a deep level to nature, to other people and to the past. Museums have the potential to play a part in responding to this public need, yet they have not assessed how to balance their custodial responsibilities for material objects with their cultural facilitation role in the realm of symbolic experience. Museums are hampered by a tradition that honours intellectual knowledge about objects over the more irrational and creative experiencing of cultural symbols. This chapter explores some of the many issues related to this topic, within a framework of understanding the role that culture plays in the sustainability, or unsustainability, of human life on our planet. The Canadian Museums Association and LEAD International and LEAD Canada provided support for this work.


Ecological Footprint World Commission Museum Visit Museum Experience Canadian Museum 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas Worts
    • 1
  1. 1.Art Gallery of Ontario in TorontoCanada

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