After a century of effort, most curators tolerate theory but continue to disdain it. The social psychologist Kurt Lewin said: “There is nothing so practical as a good theory”. His wisdom about theory has been largely misinterpreted. It was a corrective call for a balanced appreciation of both, theory and practice as one feeds the other, though it mildly reminds us that thinking usually precedes an act. A carpenter or a fisherman or any other art would fail without theory. But, the fact that any curator is already a specialist in an academic discipline blinds them to see that being a full time officer of public memory would require at least a theory of its own.
He who thus praised the practicality of theory, also said:"If you want truly to understand something, try to change it". As a curator I have tried to change museums. Being Professor of Museology, I have tried to change curators. I have learned a lot. Yet, change can be produced only if we finally understand that we are but an occupation in a grand profession in making, - that of public memory.
Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) is considered the father of modern social psychology. His work was influenced by Gestalt psychology and stressed the importance of both personal characteristics and the environment in causing behaviour.
Why is Theory Practical?