Museum Magic

I have an embarrassing habit. Whenever I go see an engaging movie that features some kind of unique skill set or sect of special knowledge, I become temporarily convinced that that skill set or special knowledge is something I was born to acquire. The most recent example came in the form of a delightfully mind-boggling, partially mystical but wholly enthralling film about the world of professional magicians, Now You See Me. I came home that Friday night and naturally spent the entirety of my Saturday learning beginners card tricks which I am proud to say I will be able to bewilder small children with at my cousin’s wedding in two weeks. The point is, however, that the story-telling, visual spectacle, and intellectual dazzling – the pure joy of the craft­ – expressed in this film temporarily made me want to quit my job and become a magician.


I can’t believe I haven’t posted a picture of myself for you guys yet! This is me in my Wedding Finest.

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“Great Scott! Vorticism makes sense now! How have I been missing it all these years?!”

Don’t worry, folks, I realized that due to my lack of manual dexterity and/or an even mildly convincing poker face, I should probably stick to my day job. It did get me thinking about Movie Magic, though. That mystical capability of a good movie to almost physically transport you into another world and quite literally transport you into a new state of mind – and I immediately recognized the feeling as that same 1.21 Gigawatt jolt of inspirational energy I get when I’ve had a really great museum session. This is what I’ve deemed Museum Magic and it does, in fact, share many common traits with it’s more familiar cinematic counterpart.


The only time anyone has ever described crossword puzzles as ‘THRILLING!’ And, by God, they weren’t wrong!

First and foremost, Museum Magic, like Movie Magic never assumes that any topic is ‘inherently boring’ or ‘off limits.’ For goodness sake, one of the greatest films of all time, armed with only twelve men and a locked door, convinced entire generations to maybe,possibly not blow off jury duty this time! One of the most ubiquitous documentaries in the world is an 80 minute single-file walk through a white wasteland with a group of decidedly non-english-speaking penguins; and Rotten Tomatoes’ Number 1 Documentary Film is the story of a 45 minute tight-wire walk. While not glamorous on paper, each of these films had their audience transfixed by using drama, design, rhythm, and simply a careful study of each of the aspects that make each activity beautiful.

On one hand, the artists have already done the heavy lifting in this arena, having observed the world and picked out those unique moments, shapes, colors, and customs and presented them with skill and a discerning eye.

On the other hand, we museum educators have the unique privilege of being able to view these works in vast groupings. We choose, like a director, which pieces we want to focus on and equate. We can create an experience with just as much drama, just as much action, and just as much inspiration as any blockbuster or documentary. We can not only convince our pupils to pick up a paintbrush, but we can literally illustrate the shocking twists and turns of the French Revolution, show them the vast landscapes of the Netherlands, and open their eyes to the interworkings of a mind 50 years ago or 300 years ago. We get to poke and prod at malleable minds until something clicks.

I want every single man, woman, and child that comes on a tour or reads a label to walk out wanting to be an expert in something they’d never thought about before. I want them to go home and click on Wikipedia links until 2am. I want them to go visit a library (maybe for the first time in their lives!) and pick up the dustiest, most forsaken book they can find. And of course, I would love if they wouldn’t mind picking up a paintbrush in the process and letting me tell their story a few years down the line….

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