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MUSEUM MATTERS: Power of the Sublime: A library awaits - Odessa American: Ticket

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MUSEUM MATTERS: Power of the Sublime: A library awaits

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Posted: Friday, January 3, 2014 9:30 am

I have often addressed conversations at museum symposia with an opening remark that museums are souls of civil societies. While this statement seems abstract in many ways, it is that which transcends a mere collection of artifacts and elevates an institution as a resonant voice of collective conscience in the fine macro sense.

Every work of art holds within it a microcosm of the abstract and the sublime. It is a cosmic interconnected sense of a greater aesthetic that spells its presence infinium beyond the decipherable DNA of drawing. The sublime requires an experiential exploration. It speaks to those who listen. It captures the imagination of those who are willing to look beyond the beauty within its frame. It emotes with the sensitive and engages the receptive.

From the early works of the British theorist Edmund Burke who inquired into the origins of the sublime and the beautiful in 1757, to Kant, Schiller and others, relational subjectivism has undergone introspective examination at many levels. While Renaissance celebrated beauty and creative rendition in works of art, it is their sublime power that continues to radiate an aura of grandeur and human quest for excellence, both as individuals and collective spirit of human ingenuity in monumental realizations of challenges manifest — be it the Colosseum or the Sistine Chapel.

The casual museum visitor remains oblivious to many of these discourses while spending a mere few minutes looking at a sculpture or a painting before moving on to the next, rarely glancing at the interpretive text that may carry the title and the artists’ credit. Engaging the sublime continues to be a curatorial challenge for museums around the world. Many an institution seldom even attempts to open the Pandora’s box or gaze into the sublime ‘crystal ball’ of colors on canvas. Its poetic essence is best left to the curious minds that dare to lift the metaphoric veil of vellum.

With blogs overtaking books as the preferred medium of socio-cultural learning among the younger generations, art becomes the first casualty of the digital age that flattens paintings into two-dimensional sterile pixel palettes.

Very few in our community are aware that the Ellen Noël Art Museum of the Permian Basin has an incredible, perhaps the largest veritable public collection of books on art history, aesthetics, philosophy, classical and modern art. Aided by generous contributions from the Perryman family and support from the Chancellors, the library beckons researchers, scholars and the Permian Basin community to visit, read, explore, learn and enjoy the beautiful and the sublime in art.

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