Category Archives: Lifestyle Balance

Some thoughts on the future for art museums from a non-insider

There is a couple of things on my mind when I think about art museums. Some of them are specifically post-COVID, but globally speaking those considerations would be relevant to museums also in the absence of the global pandemic.

First, of course, a small disclaimer: who am I to talk about what art museums should do?

I am not an insider, I have never worked for an art museum or been on its board. Yet. Nevertheless, as a person whose work relates to the art field and most importantly as a person whose heart is in the art world, I take the liberty of voicing my humble opinion.

Long story short, here is what I’ve been thinking about: 

I cannot help but wonder what is the rationale of physical existence for art museums in the modern world? What is their mission? What do they exist for? Are they meant to be the mere guardians of our cultural heritage? Or to be a bridge, a promoter, an inspirer, and a dialogue fosterer?

The current pandemic amusingly managed to engage many people with art (perhaps, even more than museums did in years before that). Countless museums and art galleries opened their virtual doors to millions and millions of people, and there have been amazing curated online exhibitions recently. 

Just as an example:

take the canceled Van Eyck exhibition, which turned into an exciting virtual VIP tour guided by no other than a renowned researcher in the field of early-Netherlandish painting, co-curator Till-Holger Borchert. It was just great! I loved it!

(If you missed it, have a look here)

Had there been no COVID, would anyone be lucky to have such an experience? 

On the other hand, the exhibition which could have been THE art event of the year has been canceled and no visitor stood next to the real Van Eyck artwork…

What does that leave us with?.. Is it better to stick to virtual and forego the real altogether, as it provides better engagement? Personally, I don’t think so, but I do believe that there is an urgent, pressing need to reconsider how museums are operating (how all of us are “operating”, in fact). As one avenue of thought, perhaps art museums need to increase their use of modern technologies like the AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality), and others to enhance people’s experiences. On the other hand, do people really need that?

One of the great virtual initiatives in the time of COVID has been #izoizolyacia (#covidclassics, and especially the Russian version of the hashtag #изоизоляция) — the flashmob on Facebook and Instagram where participants try to emulate famous paintings (certainly have a look at the hashtags if you still haven’t). Thousands of people participated (and still do). In fact, tens of thousands of people got engaged with art through this initiative. Will those people remain engaged, interested, or inspired by artworks in the future? I don’t know; but even if 1% of them do, that’s a lot of people.

Talking about engagement with art museums, one has to stress blockbuster exhibitions aimed at attracting huge crowds. However, to think about it, this exhibition-going experience for many people proves to be rather shallow. It is somehow peculiarly less about seeing and more about… being seen seeing. 

Moreover, on the walls of museums and in their storages there are still countless masterpieces that do not profit from public interest anymore (nor have ever, for that matter). That makes me wonder how could art museums stimulate people to engage more with this art? Also, provided the social distancing, how could such an engagement still happen at all?

I am talking a lot about “engagement”, but the thing is — this engagement aspect really matters. Art is supposed to foster reflection, discussions, enhance the understanding of society and the world around us, stimulate creativity, dialogue, and continuous quest for improvement. Art is not made to be buried alive in the climate-controlled storage facilities; it is made to live and to be interacted with. Just having a museum and just putting some artworks on its walls does not stimulate engagement. I wonder what could?

Another thought elaborates on what I already mentioned — “do people really need that?” More precisely, it is about investigating the needs of museum visitors. In many museums e.g. in Belgium I was asked for the postal code, but wouldn’t it be more valuable to know what did I come for (from wherever I came from)? What are my expectations from this visit? What do I hope to learn, see, feel, experience? And at the end of my visit, wouldn’t it be valuable for a museum to know if I got what I was hoping for? 

Finally, to complete this particular thought: what about those who never go to museums? Does anyone care to find out what is detracting them? Why don’t they? Could there be another way how to reach them?

In this post, I am not going to provide any answers, I just intended to voice some of the questions I have on my mind related to this subject. Hopefully that could trigger a dialogue.

So, now it is your turn: what do you think? What would the future for art museums be like according to you? And, as an add-on, if you never (or seldom) go to museums, why not? What could museums do to get to your heart?

Should we share our flame

When reflecting on the dynasties of doctors or lawyers or sportsmen, I always wonder if kids were really born to continue the profession of their parents, or they simply somehow “didn’t know any better”? Same with hobbies, same with skills…

I wonder: do we intentionally or unintentionally limit our kids by primarily passing on to them what we ourselves know and like? (I guess an immediate disclaimer here would be that I am not talking about teenagers, this far it is about toddlers and up to 8 year-olds. Teenagers for me is still uncharted territory. 🙂 )

To provide some context, I play golf. I don’t teach (neither do I actively encourage) our kids, for example, to play volleyball, or ride a horse. There is a big chance that they will soon join us on the green (which is great!). Even our 2-year old seems to like it. Yet, I wonder if she likes the game or does she like the fact that she is playing the game her parents and older siblings play?

Another thing: I have recently taught our daughter some latte art basics. All fine, but then again… If I had been drinking tea, my kids by now would probably have known the difference in temperature required to brew different types of it, but they don’t. However, they do know the difference between latte and latte macchiato, so they are in fact limited by… my preferences.

The question, thus, is: should we focus less on trying to “teach” what we know? Maybe our primary “task” is not to share our own passion, our own flame, but to show our kids very different examples of what’s possible? And maybe even a step further: maybe we should explore and learn more together with them?

In fact, I guess it is very easy to fall into a trap of “let’s share our own flame”. To try to offset this a bit, a while ago we bought a piano. I didn’t know how to play it, neither did my husband, but we wanted to trigger our kids to explore, and perhaps also to learn to play ourselves. Now, I have learned a couple of simple melodies, while our daughter is already nailing “We are the champions” and “Kalinka”.

I wonder what should we buy next? 🙂

To conclude, I am convinced that as long as there is a healthy balance between passing on your existing knowledge and skills, and enabling kids to expand their horizons (by your own example, encouragement, or sometimes – just by giving them tools), teaching and sharing what you know is a great thing to do. The challenge is, of course, in finding this right balance…

What do you think? Do you primarily teach your kids what you know yourself, ignite them with your own flame, or do you try to explore new things with them, and expand your own and their horizons?

How do we teach patience to kids if we refuse to stand in a queue ourselves?

How many times have you faced a situation that you see a large crowd of people and turn around to go away? 

I have it regularly. There were liquidation sales at a golf shop, where I really wanted to have my shopping spree. Guess what, I was not the only one. However, when I saw the line of cars, desperately trying to find a parking spot in the neighborhood, I turned around and went home. Sales will be online somewhere. 

I don’t like waiting. No, let me rephrase – I actually genuinely hate waiting. I never make anyone wait for me, and I get really annoyed if someone or something doesn’t return that favor… But then again, for me, this is not the ”instant gratification” story. Not entirely. At the same time, I can perfectly work on something which will bring results far in the future (or maybe not even at all). This queue intolerance for me is the intolerance toward wasting time on apparently useless actions. 

For me queueing is a waste and good operations management principles are teaching us that waste needs to be eliminated… Now, what about patience? Patience is a virtue, as the saying goes. Does it apply to any patience though? Are there different types of patience? Is patience only about being able and willing to wait? Does patience stop being a virtue if it has no truly valuable goal? Is patience for the sake of patience even healthy? 

Coming back to the question in the title: so what about kids and patience? What is it exactly that we want to teach our kids, and is patience actually the right word for it?

The trap of rehearsing

Remember that story when you were still a toddler playing in a sandbox in the park, and a bigger kid came over to you and took your toy away? You were so angry and frustrated, and felt helpless… Remember? But are you sure you actually remember this exact moment? Are you convinced that all the details were right? Are you even confident it actually happened in reality and not in your childhood nightmare?

Our memory is horribly unreliable. What is more, we frequently confuse reality and imagination when it comes to something which happened in the past. Memory not rehearsed fades away. On the other hand, memory rehearsed over and over again becomes less of an accurate account of what happened, but rather a story we decided to tell ourselves.

The trap is: it is the story we tell ourselves which is the most powerful.

Any situation which happens affects us not directly, but through the emotions, it causes in us. The curious thing is that the initial emotion as a reaction to a particular situation or event is rather quick and also rapidly disappearing, unless…

Here is an important caveat — unless! Unless we start rehearsing the situation in our heads.

After a very short while it is no longer the fact that causes our emotion, but our interpretation of the fact.

Look, your boss calls you into the office and tells you that the report you made is total crap. You are insulted, you might disagree, but anyway — you feel embarrassed, sad and… (add whatever is applicable) After the incident, you keep on replaying in your head the whole situation, you start inventing dialogues, which never actually took place in reality and you start thinking about yourself as a total failure not able to complete even the simple task. Or… Maybe you just accept the fact that the report is a crap, ask what needs to be improved, brainstorm what else can be done and just get down to fixing the problem. The choice is yours.

The choice to get into the trap of rehearsing and a downward spiral of negative emotions versus focusing on the fact and how to fix the fact.

They say that time heals. It does, but this comes with a small print. Time heals if you don’t fall into the trap of rehearsing. I do have some painful memories, memories of a loss, which still haunts me from time to time. However, luckily I decided relatively early on that details, accusations, “what ifs” and “why oh whys” are not going to change anything. So I moved on. Some years later I don’t remember the details. I know the fact, it is not going anywhere, but the web of storytelling around it is just not the baggage I want to carry.

To draw the line, we cannot choose what happens to us, but we can choose our reaction. We are not able to choose our emotions, but we can avoid stimulating our emotions by unnecessary rehearsing of (perhaps already partially, or even completely invented) stories.

The silently allowed discrimination

Had a meat-eater written something like: “Learn to love meat. If you don’t love it, you don’t know how to do it right. It’s the best for you. Start with these simple steps:…”, vegetarians would have gone berserk. Frankly, I would not appreciate such a style either, as that excludes the possibility of making a choice. However, when a lark is writing something like: “Learn to wake up early. If you don’t love to wake up early, you don’t know how to do it right. It’s the best for you. Start with those simple steps:…”, owls just suck it up. But wait, isn’t that the same narrative just in a different context?

Moreover, this narrative keeps on coming at you in all forms possible: “you definitely need to write the Morning pages!”, “The best time is Morning!”, “It is scientifically proven that a person is most effective in the Morning!”, ”Let me teach you how to start waking up early!” — that’s just by skimming through several pages of popular public speakers and coaches. The silently allowed discrimination! Well, I do not know which science has proven what, but I am dangerously aggressive (LOL) before at least 8 or better 9 in the morning … Am I doomed? Efficiency and balance are not for me by definition?

Actually if one looks around, it might seem like a conspiracy. The social life seems to be made by and for the larks, which personally, I consider to be the cruelest injustice of this world. I will tell you more: if you dare to openly admit that you prefer to work at night, very often you can hear sympathy or comments like: either you do not know how to organize your day, or you cannot prioritize. “You steal your own efficiency!”, “You crush your balance!”, and as a cherry on the pie: “You should just try, you will get used to it!”.

You can, of course, get used to almost everything, but this does not mean that you will feel good about it, nor that it is actually the best way. And if it doesn’t seem to work for you… why would you torture yourself?

I would like to conclude my slightly emotional narrative by stressing that the matter of conscious choice is relevant not only in respect of global issues, but also in connection with certain small habits and actions. There are no one-size-fits-all approaches. There are no magic transformations of owls into larks either. It all starts with knowing yourself, your needs and also your limitations. Most importantly, if it works for Tony Robbins (or anyone else, pick your favourite!), it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for you. Thus, if you are more comfortable in the shadow of the night, start writing “Night pages” — they will be just as good and much more natural for you.