How to use this language

Here are some very concise ideas to guide the use of the museographic language, without attempting to be exhaustive:

Define clearly the key concepts: before applying the tools of the museographic language to obtain a particular museographic solution, it is essential to determine as precisely and concisely as possible which messages are to be conveyed and embedded in the narrative of the exhibition. These messages can therefore be called key concepts1 In the aforementioned case of the elephant tooth, the message is certainly very clear: the African elephant is one of the largest animals that exist on Earth. In the case of the house of cards, the associated key concept was concise, too: the economic systems of society maintain a delicate interdependence. When it comes to abstract communicative purposes —more typical of art— it can be more complicated to define these key concepts.

Always think about how to evaluate the communicative results: it must be possible to ponder —as much as possible— to what extent the messages that are intended to be transmitted through the use of the museographic language are effectively communicated or not, and how. It would be quite absurd to use any language without having evidence of its communicative efficiency. This is no less true in the case of the museographic language.

Keep in mind the target audience of the message: in the practice of the museographic language it is essential not to lose sight of the fact that the ultimate intention is to communicate a message to some people, in the very particular context of a visit to an exhibition. These visitors will act as co-constructors of that message in a group environment, hence all kinds of resources must be devoted to thoroughly understand the characteristics, expectations and needs of the public. In this sense, it is striking that so many museographic solutions are still designed for individual use and access and not for groups —as should be the case—, thus forgetting the great importance of promoting a social experience and conversation among members of a visiting group.

Work with all the resources of the museographic language: artifact, model, demonstration and analogy should seldom appear in isolation in the context of an exhibition —and even in the context of a single exhibit— and rightly so. It is necessary to systematically combine the four resources of the museographic language in hybrid, complex, innovative museographic proposals, well balanced in terms of resources and communicatively efficient. Achieving this is what could be called museum R&D&i and involves an excellent use of the museographic language.

The interdependence and interconnection of the resources of the museographic language is key. The quality of an exhibition is closely related to a well-developed hybridization of these resources. In some cases, it is even possible to combine resources of a certain type, such as a series of artifacts that share certain characteristics, and that are exhibited together for an intellectual exercise of comparison, for example.

Establish which is the predominant resource in each museographic solution: elaborating on the  above, given that good museographic solutions are mixed, complex and rarely pure, when getting into classifying and planning it is important to identify the predominant resource of the museographic language in each case, in order to ensure the appropriate balance in the context of an exhibition.

Use auxiliary resources with measure: videos, written text, speeches, graphics… This has already been addressed earlier, but it is always worth remembering that the products of other languages should play only a subsidiary and auxiliary role in the use of the museographic language, whose own native resources are related to reality and to the tangibility of objects and phenomena. These must be the undisputed protagonists, distinguishing and giving meaning to the intellectual experience of visiting an exhibition.

Systematically seek excellence in the use of resources of the museographic language, in order to guarantee their uniqueness and appropriateness: it is not easy or immediate to come up with good museographic solutions, so it is usually a good habit to distrust proposals whose conception has not undergone a more or less extensive process of reflection, development and testing2. Excellent museographic solutions will be very hard to be replaced by photos, words or resources from other languages. If a particular museographic solution did not require the visitor to be present, it would not be a product of the museographic language [try to explain in words —or photos or videos— the experience of smelling a pomander3 from the 16th century recently discovered in a very good state of preservation]. In this same vein, a good museographic solution will be characterized by the fact that it will be able to arouse interest in enjoying it again in a repeat visit4.

It is therefore necessary to be very critical when considering the use of the museographic language in a communication project. If a photo, a video or a text —for example— are communicatively more effective or equally effective in a given situation, it is probably better not to undertake the creation of a museographic element or exhibition, but to use other means such as a web, a movie or a book. The different resources of the museographic language have great communicative power, but their adequate development can be costly in terms of time, training and other resources, such as the importance of working in large teams and in an interdisciplinary way. This is why it is necessary to carefully weigh up the availability of resources before tackling an exhibition project, ensuring that it will have sufficient quality, rigor, relevance and appropriateness, so that the required extra investment is fully justified.

Next: Future challenges.

Previous: The resources of the museographic language one by one.

  1. One of the challenges of a good exhibition is that these key concepts are precise and
    concise enough and together form a narrative with content that is both quantitatively and qualitatively appropriate. It is necessary to avoid the excessive exhaustiveness and conceptual complexity seen in quite a few exhibition projects.
  2. In the museographic language, as in other languages, it is essential to differentiate between true creativity —which requires work and time—, and mere occurrences, which are churned out like churros in certain meetings with inadequately trained participants.
  3. A pomander is an amulet in the form of a small, delicately constructed container that was worn during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It could carry different fragrant substances, which could be considered as an aromatic jewel.
  4. . Just as reading a good book several times, listening to a good song several times or watching a good movie several times are not only not tedious, but add new enriching perspectives in the communicational experience of literary, musical or cinematographic language, respectively.
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