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  • Writer's pictureTomislav S. Šola

The profession that never came to be

Back in the mid-1990s I was still enthusiastically teaching my students that there is a new profession they will help to create, - the one that will make important both their widening job and themselves. I haven’t given up yet, but now I know better than convincing passionate professors are not there to teach you a splendid future but supply you with motives for a manageable one. I am sorry the world of public memory institutions (together with the big one framing it all) disobeyed and made slow and slight changes. If I were younger I would surely write a passionate book about a failed profession and how the world would have been better had it been successful. Or should I admit, - possible at all?

Well, anyhow, I took care to read much. I remember at the time, it was rather limited literature describing what, generally, a profession should be like. I still find the list on the slide (see the list of elements above) relevant enough. I wrote about the details of it several times and will not repeat it here, - this time, probably, less convincingly.

What I would add, 33 years after the very slide was made (but surely did mention at the time of my vehement lecturing) are two elements more.

Before I do so, let me explain my arrogance first. I understood the world better than most of my colleagues internationally. At times, it was both to my advantage as well as harm. Namely, my “observatory” was well placed both in time and geopolitically: between WW2 (during Cold War) and on the eve of the Permanent WW3 (which we are now seeing flaring up), - and all that in what was former Yugoslavia, - one of the exposed non-aligned countries with passports well accepted for wide travelling.

One of the new elements is professional honesty: - simple integrity which, - I admit, was always coloured by my fascination with welfare society as the only worth projection of societal contract. We were a country of quite good moral standards, comparatively. “Them” meaning the careerist Party members were bad guys and we, others, were (naturally!) good ones, and so the future was bright with us rather than them, once we take over and create it. Idealism, was helped maybe with tradition and competition in national pride. The integrity, truthfulness, straightforwardness, and positive virtues were in high esteem. We were somehow excused for not demonstrating these qualities of honesty because the bad guys were there and, - alert. Then the freedom came. Dreams often become nightmares and we were not the first to realize it. But, I still think that a curator should have a brave activist mind with a poetical inclination to anarchism (which means that institutions are best when constantly de-institutionalized). Being honest is also being critical but starting by yourself, - in this case even by the uncomfortable truths about your own heritage. But that is a long story, explained in my writings (all freely accessible on this website). Most of recent claims about inclusiveness and co-curating are basically stemming from the same moral quality.

The other element of curatorial professionalism in the public memory sector should be the taste that is acquired through professionally acquired knowledge, human experience, social practice and humanistic education, - during the cooperation with others who participate in the working process of the museum. This is the dynamic ability to discern the nuances in the perfection of the job, the ability to distinguish proper associates and contractors as the specific situation requires, an ability to differentiate between options and perceive, say, correct or timely themes or the right approach to them. There can be no good professional without havening developed a distinctive taste, often recognizable as a personal touch or almost a style. Besides, do not say that you have not seen even the ugly exhibitions and ugly museums, let alone the events or details of sloppy, careless, professional performance. Any communication is art.


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