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July 19, 1972 - Image 11

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Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1972-07-19

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Wt'ednesday, July.] 9, 1972

THE MICHIGAN DAIL r

Page Five

Fuure Of Museums

Alma S. Wittlin, MUSEUMS:
IN SEARCH OF A USABLE
FUTURE, The MIT Press,
$15.00.
By ARTHUR BLUMENTHAL
Dr. Wittlin, trained at the
University of Vienna and the
State Museums of Berlin, begins
her book with a definition of a
museum, which she pursues
further in the appendix. She
uses the oft-repeated definition
of a museum as a depository,
research center and educational
'agency. The main assets of a
museum involve the appeal of
the objects to the eye and to
the sense of touch and their

ability to present unique his-
torical, archeological or artistic
insights. To the author, mu-
seums "are means in the service
of man and of his cultural evo-
lution."
Most of the rest of the book
is then devoted to the history
of collecting and of museums
from the Greeks to the present
day. The reasons for collecting
varied throughout history. The
early Greeks, Romans and other
civilizations (even into six-
teenth - century Europe) hoard-
ed precious metals and jewels.
Certain kings and American
capitalists collected art or other
rarities for their prestige value.
To pagans and to many during

the Middle Ages, collecting cer-
tain natural objects had a
magical benefit. Royal or na-
tional collections were often be-
gun because'of the need to show
a people's ancestry - often to
show their origin in some gold-
en-age past, or, with America,
to show future generations what
went on at the country's be-
ginning. Scientists and other
intellectuals collected objects-
artistic, historical or natural -
in order to study and learn
from them:
Dr. Wittlin points out that
art was most often collected to
sublimate certain unfulfilled de-
sires - "to encourage sensuous
thoughts" and to "seek substi-
tutes for inability to" draw,
paint or sculpt. The collected
works were most often displayed
in a "storeroom-style" or "mon-
ologue" presentation, with ob-
jects lined up in semi-rational
crowded fashion which was
meant to be enjoyed by the
owner and a few friends. Dr.
Wittlin takes us on a fascinat-
ing tour through the treasure
chambers of the Hapsburg prin-
ces, Napoleon's court, the Me-
dici gallery, Cardinal Mazarin's
gallery and many other early
private museums and collec-
tions.
The author devotes over half
the book to the history of pub-
lic museums in Europe and
America from the early eigh-
teenth century on. She then
outlines the "reforms" made in
museums from 1850 to 1914 (in
specialization, in national-his-
toric, ethnological, and natural
history museums, in interna-
tional expositions, in American
art museums, in museum edu-
cation and architecture), from
1919 to 1939 (in Soviet Russia,
in Italy and Germany, in the
United States and in "liberal"
Europe), and from 1945 to 1969
(in Western Europe- museum
locations, architecture, attitudes,
topics and centralization, in
Eastern Europe, in America).
The great institutions, such as
the Smithsonian, the Victoria
and Albert Museum, and the
Metropolitan Museum, are dis-
cussed in some detail as are
emerging philosophies on pre-
sentation, display and acquisi-
tion in museums.
Each of the -three "reform"
periods is concluded with a cri-

James Smithson, 'founding father' of Smithsonan Institution
booksbooks

tique of the "progress" made in
availing the museum objects to
the visitor. Some of Dr. Witt-
lin's suggestions here include:
"Museums might be built in
such places of daily confluence
. . . as . ,. shopping centers";
with the international trend .. -
toward popular education goes
the idea of a Cultural Center
embracing a museum, library,
theater and concert hall"; "mu-
seum buildings ought . . . to fit
the human scale and intone a
mood of relaxation and enjoy-
ment rather than of awe"; "the
growing recognition of the po-
tentialties and limitations of the

Museum Exhibit, Amsterdam, 1735

'Zen and Japanese Culture'

Daiseiz T. Suzuki, ZEN AND
JAPANESE CULTURE, Prince-
ton University Press, $3.95 (pa-
perback)
By KATHERYN VILLANUEVA
To a western audience D. T.
Suzuki perhaps held the most
valuable talents, allowing him
to explain successfully Oriental
concepts. Trained both as a
translator and teacher of En-
glish and as a Buddhist disci-
ple, he succeeded in fitting the
most ineffable material into a
comprehensible framework. For
this ond other reasons, Suzuki's
Zen and Japanese Culture, a re-
print of the Bollingen hardcover
edition, is very welcome in an
inexpensive paper cover format.
The text and generous, well-
printed illustrations are consist-
ent with the 1959 version.
Rather unexpectedly, Suzuki.
does not lead directly into a dis-
cussion of Zen and the Arts, but
first briefly explains what Zen
Buddhism is. This he does by
' quickly tracing the Indian ap-
proach (". , . philosophically
minded . . .") to the Chinese
Ch'an interpretation (".. , never
lost touch with the plurality of
things . . . never neglecting the
practical side . . ."), and thus
sets the stage for the all-en-
compassing Japanese involve-
ment. Subsequently, he treats
"Japanese Art Culture" and
convincingly interprets ancient
and basic Japanese cultural
traits, paralleling these tenden-
cies with the basics of Zen ex-
pression in the arts. Suzuki thus

feels that the atmosphere with-
in already established Japanese
patterns was ripe for the intro-
duction and complete assimila-
ton of Zen thought Zen is seen
as especially suited for amplifi-
cation in the "molding" of
Japanese culture and character,
and is examined "particularly
in the development of Bushido,
the way of the warrior, in the
study and propagation of'Con-
fucianism and general educa-
tion, in the rise of the art of
tea, and in the composition and
form of poetry known as hai-
ku . . ." Suzuki also considers
Today's writers ..-.
Arthur Blumenthal is a cur-
ator at the Elvehjem Art
Museum.
Katheryn Villanueva teaches
Oriental Art History at the
University of Wisconsin.
the Japanese love of Nature, an-
other basic attention of the in-
cient Japanese which is later
embellished by Zen, and evi-
denced in all the arts.
To further expand the read-
er's understanding of the great
intermingling of Zen thought in
the life of the Japanese, Suzuki
includes in a set of/ Appendices
translated "cases" from the his-
tory of Zen,. a Sutra, parts of a
No play, sections of an ancient
books on swordsmanship, and
excerpts from the writings of
the Chinese philosopher Chu-
ang-tzu. Sixty-nine fine illustra-
tions of Japanese and Chinese

paintings and calligraphy have
been integrated with the text.
Of great help also are the full
bibliography and dual language
index.
Suzuki's approach to his study
is not one which intends to at-
tribute everything of the char-
acter and general culture of the
Japanese to the development of
Zen. He starts, rather, from a
basic relief that expression in
the arts of the country was and
is based on an intensely spirit-
ualized concept of men and his
endeavors. Zen, thus, "
helped the Japanese to come in
touch with the presence of the
mysteriously creative impulse in
all branches of art . . ." As he
defines the transcendent direc-
tion of realizing one's own en-
lightenment (satori) inherent in
Zen, he finds, by extension, a
powerful stimulent to the artis-
tic impulses which produce
swordsmanship, haiku, and the
tea ceremony. Precisely on this
point the crux of his argument
is set. His interpretation of art
in Japan is one which binds the
creative to the intuitive in a
total environmental involve-
ment of man and the area
around him. The tea house and
the implements used in the tea
ceremony offers a perfect ex-
ample. It is the creation of this
special environment which
forms a total art; nothing
should be separated from its
full embient. Suzuki includes .a
discussion of . training in "life"
by many Zenmen in his section
on Samurai.
Each section of the book is

richly illustrated with quota-
tions from treatises by great
Japanese artists in various me-
dia. For example, the great bulk
of the volume deals with the
samurai swordsman. 'One may
read, parallel with Suzuki's. in-
terpretations, the words of the
great fencing masters and their
pupils. As he introduces the
Zen idea of "the mind that is
no-mind," Suzuki quotes from
Yagyu Tajima no kami's trea-
tise on the "Mystical Sword."
The illustration serves to ex-
plain the transcendence of the
master swordsman beyond the
thoughts of life and death, tech-
nique and knowledge. By thus
amplifying the number of pri-
mary sources quoted, Suzuki al-
lows for a historic and concept-
ual understanding of both Zen
and the specific art under dis-
cussion. This approach should
prove to be of great help to the
student, since the elusive qual-
ity of Oriental philosophy can
be difficult to apply directly.
The book is, to sum up; a,
rich discussion which adds
greatly to the literature in En-
glish on Zen and its relation to
Japanese culture.: It. certainly
holds much of interest and val-
ue for a general reading audi-
ence. Suzuki's special ability to
compile, express, and interpret
difficult and basic philosophic
ideas of Japan is nowhere more
useful for a Western audience
than in this book. This long ad-
mired and aesthetically pleas-
ing volume should reach many
new readers in its paperback
edition.

human creature has initiated a
search for multisensory ap-
proaches to the museum visitor."
In other words, museums
should be easier places to visit
and enjoy.
The author spends the most
time on the third "reform"
period (1945-69) in the United
States, where "a new museum
was founded every 3.3 days be-
tween 1960 and 1963." After
quoting numerous such figures,
she discerns the following
trends in American museums: a
changing taste in art museums,
a concern with ecology in na-
tural history and anthropology
museums, the awareness of mi-
nority groups, the displaying
of "a Total Environment," the
emphasis on research and "a
widely spread malaise with re-
gard to existing conditions in
the presence of physical pro-
gress."
In the final section, which Dr.
Wittlin entitles "A Twelve-
Point Program for Museum Re-
newal," she suggests several
remedies for this malaise in
American museums. Through-
out the book and here again,
she refers to the "ideological
background," the "probing"
needed to work out fundament-
als and priorities. Following the
International Council of Mu-
seums, the author defines "a
museum as an establishment in
which objects are the main
ideas of communication . .
The term 'museum' is neither
better nor worse than 'club' or
'center."' It should not be for-
gotten that museums were
meant to serve mankind, and
thus should maintain "their va-
lidity in terms of their capacity
to enhance the overall poten-
tialities of individuals and of
society in years to come."
Considering the o p e n i n g
quotes in the book about "up-
setting conventions" and "en-
couraging dissent" in museums,
Dr: Wittlin's remedies are
warmed - over thoughts, high-
ly idealistic, yet not particular-
ly venturesome or original.
Over and over again, she raises
pertinent and sometimes stimu-
lating questions which she rare-
ly even attempts to answer. It
is to be regretted that the au-
thor fails to come to grips with
the stated aims of the book to
find a "usable future" for mu-
seums, or at least make sugges-
tions beyond the few pale and
less-than-original "programs"
she puts forth.

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