Museum, Media, Message

By Eilean Hooper-Greenhill | Go to book overview

5

Observations on semiotic aspects in the museum work of Otto Neurath: reflections on the ‘Bildpädagogische Schriften’ (writings on visual education)1

Hadwig Kräutler

Introduction

The competent, reflective use of the possibilities of non-verbal, symbolic and holistic media has become increasingly important to counter shallow clichéd slogans and to enable people to move towards active participation and decision-making by offering positively inspiring and stimulating experiences. In this respect, museums with relevant messages and high-quality, eye-catching communication can be effective as public places for informal learning and entertainment. The decision-makers in these institutions, however, have to know how to use the museum’s potential productively. For this there is no generally applicable formula. Not only does the museum not exist, but there are innumerable and very different institutions, each with histories and collections of its own, and with specific relations to its public. 2

Newer research in museum communication is influenced by semiotics to the degree where concepts of a purely mechanistic transmission of information have been left behind. Societal conditions and possibilities of construction and transmission as well as production of ‘meaning’ (cf. Bruner 1990; Umiker-Sebeok 1991; Winner 1979) in the multidimensional diachronic and synchronic complexity of the interface ‘museum-public’ and its mass media qualities have been taken into account. Research regarding museums as socio-semiotic phenomena can yield valuable tools to improve and enhance the pertinence and meaning of their public-oriented activities.

The diverse forms and methods in which a museum deploys its public functions, and activates its partners, potential and actual, in its communicative efforts, can be termed the ‘public language’ of a museum (Belcher 1991:43; Royal Ontario Museum 1976). The ‘eloquence’ of a museum, the occurrence and quality of these activities, especially in the form of permanent and temporary exhibitions which are the most readily perceived of its utterances, are indicators for performance and capacity.

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