International Journal of Art & Design Education

Objects of Criticism: a Contribution from the New Museology

Volume 12.3   1993



Stanley asks , first, why should the cultural repertoire be extended and what does it offer art education? Second, and more problematically, if there are real benefits from undertaking an expanded curriculum, then how can this objective be achieved? These questions are discussed in the context of the new museology, with sections on visual affinity versus cultural context, the significance of local contexts, and tolerating ambiguity. He concludes that the terms of visual comparison are never wholly visual. He cites as an example the potential link in our minds between bull fighting and Assyrian lion hunts. ‘The visual beauty of the graphic image in Assyrian sculpture offers a rebuke to the historical and cultural contextualiser who would dismiss it as an emblem of barbarity. What makes Assyrian sculpture so exciting to study is that neither claim will cede precedence – we are caught neatly and totally in the ambiguity of the image. This is what recommends the best of the new museology to critical studies. No more are we content to search for a correct solution, a satisfying answer. Instead, we draw from both strands of the new museology simultaneously. We trust both our eye and our understanding. What we get, however, is not a higher synthesis, but rather a range of new perspectives and outcomes, both plastic and conceptual. There is no new cosmology on offer. There is, however, a new way into exploring the agenda of critical studies which does not provide ready curriculum content but a method of approaching the topic (and the museum examples show how varied these inquiries may be). This approach is posited on the acceptance of the importance of ambiguity and change, and it provides a new means of challenging both objects we encounter in the world around us and ourselves.’

This is one of a series of papers published in Volume 12, No. 3 that originated from a seminar held in the summer of 1993 at the University of Central England, Birmingham, entitled ’Critical Studies the Next Ten Years’.