The Art Museum In Sacred Context

by Bob Carroll

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Great Hall BullsPrehistoric cave art emphatically reflects a sacred relationship between art and the viewing participant, so much so that one might perceive the caves of prehistoric drawings discovered at Altamira and other sites in Northern Spain, and the Lascaux and the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc caves in France as the first authentic art museums. As recent as 2001, a ceiling image of a classic prehistoric Venus was discovered at Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc, a composition researchers feel was consciously given a privileged place in a central topographic situation in the salle du Fond. Researchers added that “Above [the Venus] there is a very likely composite being, the 'Sorcerer' or man-bison. A relation venus/man-bison cannot be simply fortuitous. The thematic association is clear.” Four other female representations are in the cave complex, showing that the general morphology of the cave is directly connected to this shamanistic, religious imagery.


the acropolisIn the classical origins of “museum,” both the Greek and Roman empires had votive offerings housed in temples. The Greek pinakotheke of the 5th century BC represented a kind of sacred museum on the Acropolis at Athens; it contained paintings honoring the gods, so the motif of such paintings clearly reflected a sacred orientation.

Etymologically, as well as literally, a museum was a place devoted to the “muses.” Consequently, both words: muse and museum, reflect the Indo-European “men-” root. Museum in its Greek form, mouseion, meant “seat of the Muses” and it is worth noting that the Greeks did not think of the Muses simply as literary inspiration. The nine Muses, all children of Zeus and Mnemosynoe (personification of memory and herself a daughter of Heaven and Earth) covered a vast territory of music, poetry, history, comedy, tragedy, dancing, choral song, chant and hymn, memory.


Guggenheim BilbaoWhen we think of the great museums of the modern world, those places that house, protect, and offer access to collections of famous paintings, sculptures, and many other visual art, as well as cultural artifacts and many other specialized collections, we generally feel the special purposes and qualities, or milieu, of such places and their art collections. As the use of art changed, museums changed, and the original sacred connotations of “museum” have been lost. Nonetheless, we do on occasion feel a sense of awareness akin to reverence on entering the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, or the Guggenheim in New York City, or Le Louve, The British Museum, The State Hermitage in St. Petersburg, or any of the other great museums of the world.

Adi Da SamrajThe art of Adi Da Samraj is very much about who He is as a spiritual being and His relationship with His audience. The effect of participating (Adi Da uses the word “participatory” when describing the viewer's role) on a person who gives his or her attention to that art might be described as the emergence of a non-premeditated intelligence and emotional vulnerability. Participation in Adi Da's art opens the participant to what is impossible to describe conceptually in coherent language; any verbal description merely points to a transcendent experience that must be known directly

It's not merely objective. It's subjective or experienced reality. It's not just the Images. There's the experiencing of the Images. Experiencing of the Images is what people are doing. They're not merely relating to an object, separate, entirely separate. They're participating.