Friday, March 1, 2013

(do yourself a favor and go to this museum)


this is just a quick note of thanks and appreciation for my museum visit yesterday.  everything about it was magical.

(just so you know, I'm not the type of person who uses the word "magical" often or casually.)

I first developed a "relationship" with geology when I lived in chicago and discovered a stretch of beach along lake michigan on the far north side of the city that was way more "pebbly" than most.  the subtle gradation from sand to tiny pebbles to small pebbles to large pebbles was visually striking, and as an aspiring painter and sculptor always looking for new materials, inspirations, and motifs, I felt that this phenomenon deserved some close attention.

the upshot of it all was primarily that after 9 years I amassed a considerable pebble collection.  for serious globe-trotting geologists I know this sounds like pretty small beer, and it is- I'm only mentioning it as a way of explaining that I understand the value of a specific collection of artifacts and how one can come to develop a personal connection with that specific collection.

most of my museum visits are to collections or exhibits of visual art, the more contemporary the better.  I don't think I've been to a science or natural history museum since I was a kid, and all I remember about those experiences were my semi-pedantic parents trying with all their might to get me and my sister to understand that all this stuff was really important and interesting.

it was, of course. we were just way too young to realize it.

fast forward 30 years or so, and now I'm in your museum by myself, by choice, slowly circulating thru your collection in a trance state approaching something along the lines of cosmic reverie.  a very humbling and clarifying encounter.  a much needed larger perspective in terms of the space-time continuum and the unaccountable natural processes and creatures that have been moving along more or less just fine on their own.  some disappeared, granted, but isn't that just part of the deal?  others emerged, and will probably also disappear once they've finally worn out their welcome.

yes, I do have some friends in the radical environmental activist community who are pretty convinced that the human species has created, to put it mildly, a somewhat "fubar" situation.  but when has the earth ever been "recognizable"?  especially when you stand back and study the picture over the course of billions of years.  that poster illustrating the strata below miller park in milwaukee was sort of mind-blowing.  I guess technically I knew that the earth below miller park was old and all that- but that sort of detail really drove the point home.  (I especially loved that section of "lost time.")  I kept looking up at the little diagram of miller park, and imagining the people in there, cheering, or moaning, like the world was going to end if their poor brewers were gypped by a questionable call at the plate.  what a bizarre people we are!  how caught up in the petty dramas of our own little lives we can get!  myself as much as anyone, and that's why I think my encounter with the "deep time" of your museum collection helped me get my head back on straight, at least for a couple of hours.

it happens all the time that I run across staggering natural beauty or majesty and decide it's high time to throw in the towel as a visual artist and just become some sort of eccentric john muir type wanderer, letting the world and its mysteries speak for themselves. as much as I appreciate the visual arts and will probably continue going to art museums with modest enthusiasm, the geology museum at uw has become my new secret weapon against despair, petty drama, and the countless apocalyptic scenarios I'm always hearing about.  my activist friends are always allegedly devoting their efforts to "the defense of the earth."  for better or worse, I left your museum yesterday wondering to myself: does the earth really need our defense?  is that notion perhaps a little presumptuous?  maybe I understand the notion of this or that species "needing" our defense, but the earth itself?  this gazillion year old phenomenon?  your collection attests to a certain "staying power" on this little sphere, does it not?  I'm just thinking out loud here- these aren't the sort of questions to throw around casually, especially in what was meant to be a brief and simple thank you note to the folks at the museum.  

keep up the good work.

you have a new supporter in town.