Professionalism in Museums: The Frog's Destiny
Updated: Oct 22, 2021
As I said in the article “Combatant curator”, - I do not know any more to whom should I thank for the amazing caricature of a frog squeezing the throat of a heron while the latter tries to swallow it up. I have found it maybe twenty years ago somewhere on the Internet and I still see it reinterpreted and used by many. This drawing, however, was done by a talented friend Ivica Kiš, in 2012, who cared to further express the frog’s creative battle in the hopeless situation.
When teaching around I would lose some notes, so some slides may have more than one version of the assigned note. This is why the slides may reappear at this site just as they have been used or interpreted on some other occasion.
I was usually finishing some of my lectures on aspects of professionalism my lectures with that slide and usually improvised added comments. It is very much about human nature and the eternal value of hope but in my case, it was there to suggest that the discouraging circumstances should not prevent us from improving practices and innovation. Directors, especially in transitional countries are usually chosen by their political suitability and conformist guarantees that institutions will never pose a problem to the establishment. Such is always chosen as representing a cunning and erosive character, mean and small in significance nurturing constant aversion of the average towards the persons that demonstrate exceptionality, firmness, stubborn attachment to their ideals and who insist upon their integrity. The reliance of governing structures on obedient mediocrities in running the society and their institutions have prevailing patterns in the rising number of countries. Some few are quite different but seemingly the exceptions are there only to confirm the rule.
The pragmatic government never chooses the best and most valuable for functions of importance and impact, because such might be too meticulous and pushy and never faithful enough. These are potentially disturbing factors within the system. The long history of museums knows many examples of the same nature. Moreover, to the general dismay of thinking people, they gladly choose those who have various kinds of faults and sins, because they can always, at least tacitly, be blackmailed. Sabotaged democracy is therefore organized as a form of the dictatorship of mediocrities. Those individuals of modest abilities and corrupted minds are omnipresent because they have time to be usually organized into parallel, simultaneous groups of power. There is no reason to believe that this solid social practice does not concern the curators and museum directors. That is why we are constantly told to talk and act in and about our professions in the space of neutral, decontextualized science and the alleged non-political nature of our cultural and scientific institutions. But there are practically no politically neutral phenomena. The dictatorship we talk about is in a way symbolic as it has no prisons or torture room. The independently thinking individuals, who harm the system or tacit norms, do get punished by being fired, kept outside of the positions of decision making, by being ignored by publishers or being denied public visibility in media, or simply by being disregarded and omitted... A mighty heron eating a frog is easily understood as such a position of the helpless individual exposed to the mercy of the mightier power. Imagining, in a caricature, that a frog has so much mental strength to grab the heron by the neck trying to strangle it, or fight it otherwise while being swallowed, inspires a strange thought that the outcome may not necessarily be fatal for the victim. One of the virtues we are idealistically being taught is courage and it commands that we never give up, not only hope but also that we never surrender, especially when we face disqualifying reprisals. It has always been wrong and fatal for the humour trying to explain any joke, but if the joke is taken as a reminder, the explanation is probably justified. The courage suggested is of course absurd but may pose a question of how individual destiny may influence the profession-building; having an organized profession both reduces personal risk and enhances the chances for the societal mission to be accomplished. An organized profession is also the amplifier for courage and creativity, providing legitimacy and support.