INTENTIONAL MUSEUM BLOG

I ❤️ Less is More

Happy Valentine’s Day!  As many of you know, the idiom “Less is More” is attributed to minimalist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

The Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery)
The New Gallery, Berlin. https://www.dwell.com/article/ludwig-mies-van-der-rohe-architect-19dd30ba

I am grateful to him for coining the phrase and inspiring me to adopt it into my Intentional Practice.  Intentional Practice has two important guiding beliefs, both of which are hard to practice. Despite their difficulty, I ❤️ them anyway because of the conceptual and behavioral challenges they present.  I am not one to shy away from pursuing difficult tasks; in fact, they inspire me to learn new ways of thinking, which in turn may push me towards new actions.  I will save the other belief for another post (for the curious-minded—it is “Museums can’t be all things to all people”); today, the three simple words noted above—Less is More—are particularly important.

Simple words, only three of them, and all with so few letters, echo the point. Here are two ways that Less is More supports Intentional Practice thinking (I’ll try to be brief):

1. Intentional practice planning and evaluation activities support achieving impact. As such, to achieve and measure impact through supporting outcomes among visitors, visitors will have had to experience the essence of the museum so they can consider and process it and then know it. For example, if a museum’s impact statement is “People deepen their connection to nature and consider their role in sustaining their natural world for future generations,”[1] visitors may not be able to make sense of the experiences if exhibits and programming cover too much or different territory—conceptually.  If programs and exhibitions focus on ideas that support the museum’s core concept, as expressed in that the impact statement, and go deep with the concept, there is a greater chance that visitors will experience more.

One core concept—not two or three—one. One concept presented in a multitude of ways through a variety of mediums reinforces the concept that supports the museum’s intended impact.  From a planning perspective, the impact statement serves as a guidepost for disciplined, and sometimes ruthless, decision making.  From an evaluation perspective, visitors will be better able to process their experience because there are fewer ideas for them to manage; in turn, they will be experiencing the essence of the museum deeply, and as such, the evaluation process will have a better chance of detecting the effect of their experience and the ways in which the museum is achieving impact.

2. Less is More is also meaningful because it suggests that numbers may not equal success. For too long, museums’ focus on attendance suggests that high numbers are an indicator of quality.  A number is a number.  If numbers were important, I am compelled to ask, “What number is enough”?  What if success were measured by the quality of the visitor experience?  What if “More” came to mean quality of experience whereby visitors were describing the ways in which the museum did (or did not) help them understand the ramifications of climate change (for example)?  Let’s connect the visitor experience to point #1: what if “Less” was presented, thereby creating physical and conceptual space for the idea to sink in, and in doing so, the experience became “More”?  The “Less” part of the phrase invites depth, and experiences become “More.”

 
[1] Courtesy of The Wild Center, Tupper Lake, NY

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