Curiosity may save lives. Museums could help too.

I have always thought that the desire to visit museums is a result of curiosity. In other words, a curious person will likely want to visit museums.

However, many contemporary societies don’t value curiosity. In fact, being curious is widely considered a childish trait. It is because children are curious, as they ask (often uncomfortable) question to adults. Often disciplined for that, children gradually stop being curious as they grow up. After all, adults have more important things to do than asking questions and reading random encyclopaedia content, right?

Before I start, I need to write a little disclaimer. First, this is an opinion article, and its content should be taken lightly, and not as a scientific analysis. Second, I am not fully qualified to talk about all the aspects of the topic, because I don’t have any children of my own. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to publish this or not, but I decided to go for it, because I want to give my readers some interesting perspectives for 2021. You all deserve it.

The article may be specially interesting for students and people in their 20s.

Curiosity for meaningful topics

There is no exact definition of a “meaningful topic”. That being said, every person has their own passions, affinities, and interests. As a result, everyone is curious one way or another, but some people might not show it. In my 2018 article “How to visit a museum”, I gave a special attention to the fact that there are many types of museums, and for every person there is a perfectly suitable museum.

On the other hand, there is a different kind of curiosity, which is, a desire to explore a variety of things. I would like to call it “interdisciplinary curiosity”. Again, it is something children usually have naturally before it fades away as their curiosity ends where the most obvious things in the surroundings end.

For example, we all had to learn in elementary school, middle school, or high school – about basic things such as earthquakes or infectious diseases and how to protect ourselves. The thing is, school programs are boring and unappealing for most of us. I will admit that I didn’t like going to school. Schools are often similar to those unattractive museums – giving away information from the books, without a humane way to explain it. Subsequently, we easily forget the content from the school programs after we graduate.

School and curiosity
Nowadays, schools, teachers, and students don’t look like this. However, the school system is still wired and structured the same way it was back then. Only a few countries in the world are the exception. The picture was taken at the Croatian School Museum in Zagreb.

What 2020 made to us was not anything we hadn’t seen before

All the globe has been fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, but my country got even more of that 2020 curse. In Croatia, we had a series of earthquakes, first being in the country’s capital Zagreb, and second, a worse one, in the vulnerable areas south east from the capital.

Nevertheless, I don’t think we lived through any out-of-this-world struggles. Humanity has always dealt with diseases (many of them caused by viruses), as well as with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The problem is, the absence of these unfortunate situations in our close surroundings for some time before, combined with a lack of curiosity for a variety of things, led to the surprise factor. Additionally, many people took their health and safety for granted.

Media outlets haven’t helped either, as due to their business models and a pressure to make money from clicks, they spread the panic instead of encouraging a meaningful learning¬†and¬†responsibility.

During all these times, I have been wondering why many people don’t understand some basic things about health. Personal hygiene, a healthy diet, fitness, and some special protective measures (masks, distance) in the case of epidemic, it all seems a common sense for me, but for many people it is apparently unknown.

Curiosity: learning about Florence Nightingale
Crimean War: Florence Nightingale at Scutari Hospital. Aquatint after H. Rae. Wellcome Collection, London.
Florence Nightingale is the founder of modern nursing and a statistician.

The social challenge of being curious

Finally, let’s accept the truth: we can’t change the school system. We also can’t change the other people. But we can easily change our own views and habits. So the next time your friends don’t want to join you for a museum, movie, or trip – respect their decisions, but don’t give up on your own desire.

I know it is easier said than done. In fact, I didn’t always enjoy being a curious person. Sometimes I pretended I was not, as I would just follow what the others wanted to do. The only exceptions were museums. Every time I traveled with friends, I visited several museums alone. Still, I gave up on a few of them, because I didn’t want to be “such a strange person”.

Further, some people called me childish or “special” because I had that “adventurous” spirit. Although I knew their intentions were good and they were maybe a bit reckless in their vocabulary, I didn’t like it. They admired my “spirit”, but I was sad because I would prefer them to be like that rather than considering curious people “special” or whatever words they wanted to use.

Curiosity: visiting Bode Museum in Berlin
In March 2019, I visited Bode Museum in Berlin, and I was lucky to find an outstanding temporary exhibition in which European and African art shared the same space, getting the same treatment.

Get curious with some guilty pleasures

So far, you may have thought that I am only suggesting curiosity for museums and important, serious things. Don’t worry. My goal is to add some guilty pleasure to the mix.

During the lockdown, we all consumed a lot of content. Sometimes we watched movies and series, other days we decided to look at the recipes. Meanwhile, there was some content that felt entertaining but also a bit empty, while other content was so mindful. How to use some sweet curiosity to look for mindful content?

First of all, I would like to suggest you to define your guilty pleasures. For example, my guilty pleasures are stories about royal families, watching some sports on TV, especially tennis, and a few others. So, to increase your level of curiosity, mix up the things. I would recommend it to everyone.

Maria Theresa with her family, 1754, by Martin van Meytens. Schonbrunn Palace collection.

In fact, guilty pleasures might also be useful. I discovered so many fascinating things when I was reading about historical royal families.

The Role of Museums

Finally, museums offer all kind of things, from serious topics to guilty pleasures. The same applies to Fun Museums as a site. This platform is the home to museum entertainment as well as sad and serious topics. The adjective “Fun” is here only to show that the platform has mostly light, and not academic content.

Many times I said that museums have a big power and some great chances. I will repeat it as many times as necessary. The way museums present their content, in accordance with their types and collections, may be crucial to improve the natural curiosity in humans. Starting from children who need to avoid losing it, to the adults who need to restore it.

Pinacoteca di Ancona
During my visit to the Pinacoteca di Ancona (Italy), I noticed that a painting on wood was not hanged or sticked on the was, but was instead left standing alone. After going behind it, I discovered the artist’s sketches, left on purpose to encourage visitors’ curiosity.

In conclusion, being curious will make us more knowledgeable. As a result, we might be able to help the others, and to support the professionals in their work.

Further links:

Croatian School Museum website (in Croatian)

Florence Nightingale, the pioneer of nursing

Source of the image of the Empress Maria Theresa with her family (in German)

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