Can connect you with new ideas and current affairs

The aim of great galleries and exhibitions — whether large or small, publically acclaimed or obscure, and whether historical or contemporary in terms of their content — is to focus attention on issues, ideas (including political ideas), trends and movements that may be important and insightful for us today:
issues and ideas that are worth spreading!

Can help you identify and develop unique interests, knowledge and skills

Galleries and exhibitions – including ones you don’t think you will like! — can lead you towards sets of interests you might not otherwise discover and help you develop existing ones. These might be in art, but also in science, technology, popular culture, music, writing, ecology, the entertainment industry, travel, ideas, and much more. Exhibitions, including art exhibitions, reference and reflect on diverse fields of human endeavour.

Can help you shape your own thinking and learning

Wherever you live (in an urban, suburban, rural, even remote setting, or you might be on holiday) and whether or not you are currently receiving a formal education (school, college or university, evening classes, etc.) visiting galleries and exhibitions can help you direct your own ongoing learning and develop independence of thought. This is important in our highly mediatized world in which we are constantly, and often surreptitiously, being ‘told’ or ‘shown’ what and how to think, feel, and act.

What’s more, many great galleries and exhibitions are free and many also have well developed, free online resources on offer: image collections, information, podcasts and videos, articles, blogs, online courses, and virtual exhibitions. By way of example, see the range of resources available just on the
V&A website. (You will see from this website that the V&A is no longer only London-based; among recent developments are the V&A in Dundee and at the Design Society, Shekou, China.)

Can connect you with one or more ‘communities of shared interest’

Galleries and exhibitions can inspire you to ask questions of yourself and others that you might not otherwise ask and can be a first step in connecting you with ‘communities’ of people, from different times, places and backgrounds, who have congregated around a common enthusiasm. These people have a history of sharing their differing observations and experiences in many ways including books, blogs, essays, artworks, experiments, exhibitions (of course!), talks, discussion groups, workshops, documentaries, and more. Such contexts of debate can be challenging, but whether you get actively involved yourself or decide to familiarize yourself with them from an interested distance, they open up new horizons: a reminder, too, that real learning nearly always involves having our minds changed about something.

A friend once dragged me to an ironwork museum. ‘You’ve got to be joking’, I protested. But as soon as I stepped inside I was mesmerized, particularly by a collection of old, beautifully crafted locks and keys. Many were exceptionally ornate as well as mechanically complex (art and engineering were intertwined). They evoked intrigue and secrecy: the need to evade theft, surveillance and other dangers; the urgency to keep safe what was considered to be precious. Poetic as well as practical, they also evoked metaphors of hiddenness, revelation and surprise. Today, as a teacher and researcher working in the areas of art and philosophy, these objects and themes still play a central role in terms of shaping my ideas. I also see them as metaphorical for our experiences of learning: it often takes time and careful looking and thinking to unlock a difficult or unfamiliar topic.

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