Stop whatever you were doing, for I have a better proposition: a museum visit. Don’t worry, you don’t have to lift a finger to see this one, and it definitely won’t be tedious (now you probably see where I’m getting at). I’m talking about the most meaningful museum any of us can ever visit: our own minds, that is. No, I’m not implying anything, I’m merely saying it’s fun and enlightening to look at your own mind and the way you think from a different perspective.
So now close your eyes, and enter into the endless, sacred place in which all the secrets of your life lie. Crucial for the sake of the exercise, go in there with a ‘tabula rasa'(just like a baby, with no information or any sort of knowledge whatsoever). Imagine all memories, all information and everything you know or have known at a certain point just as works of art in an exhibition. You’re strolling around, bursting with curiosity, gazing at everything as if you have never known or lived any of it before.
Now this might sound humorous, but reflect on what happens in your mind while you’re wandering about in your mind. Won’t you try to discover the story and the meaning behind each piece, each concept? Won’t you try to understand them? Let’s say that on a lavishly decorated pedestal you notice Napoleon’s bust. Won’t you stop and wonder who’s that imposing guy? What is he doing there, what relevance does acknowledging him have to you? Just like a child, you will genuinely try to understand everything. So say you have an audio guide, perhaps it will say something along the lines of ‘He was a great french general, later on he became emperor, he conquered X and Y… and so on”. But then the innocently logical but never examined question you will feel the need to ask should be “But why do I know this, why do I have to, does it have any significance for me?”
And indeed, why does such a piece of information occupy precious space in your mind museum? Maybe because contemplating his ambition gives you too the desire to start working and to stop procrastinating. Maybe his mistakes make you realize you don’t have to get ahead of yourself no matter how good you think you are. Obviously, these are just mere paintbrush strokes on the canvas that could be a Monet. But we do need every single stroke to achieve the perfection of a Monet painting. Exactly the same we have to take care of every fact we put on display in our museum, and more importantly why we have to put it there. Would you like to go to a chaotic museum full of items with no apparent connection, placed one on top of the other, and even without any background information to help you understand their relevance? Would you ever bother to visit such a place?
So what is the reason behind my saying all this? Well firstly that the mind is not a disorderly attic in which you keep storing things that are of no practical use to you and you don’t even understand why you have them in the first place; rather it is like a painting in which every line, every pitch of color has a meaning and a purpose, and it need not be overcharged or done superficially. Nevertheless I’ve treated on that subject elsewhere. This time, however, I’m actually trying to highlight how one should visit a museum. We seem to do it passively, just by gazing at the exhibits, judging them in terms of ‘nice’, ‘don’t like it’, ‘boring’ or ‘stunning’. But why and how do they bring forth such feelings? Don’t they tell us something about ourselves after all? About the whole world in fact?
Why do we see each object as representative for a fact, and not for a concept? When we depart from the place in which we have spent a few hours, we should ask ourselves ‘what did I learn here?’. It unfortunately seems that all we depart with is just a bunch of information. But does that make us spiritually richer? Instead of trying to comprehend the logic of the place as a whole, and only then each separate piece and its relevance, we get lost drawing each little object out of its context only to hastily analyse its appearance.
And why, why on Earth do we have to see everything? Isn’t the whole point of it to give you a little food for thought, something to muse on after you leave the place? I for one could go to a museum and spend all my time in solely one room, provided I genuinely endeavor to apprehend all its depths. What does it profit me if I see everything, understand nothing, but can brag about having done it afterwards? Are resources for impressing other people all we long for when we complete an action?
Then why visit museums at all? Do it, but only do it because you want to learn something, even if it’s not about the subject that the respective museum touches upon. There is always something worth uncovering, provided you try hard enough.
Discover why the arts came about to understand their role in your everyday life, discover how a seemingly flawless person actually lived his life to see how imperfection renders our lives beautiful, discover how people lived in another era to understand how we came to have all these possibilities today and why you like it better now than then (or vice versa) and so on. In short, use the museum to discover yourself, discover who you are and who you want to be. Facts are forgotten almost as fast as they are picked up, but self-awareness once acquired is hard to shake off.