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Why Art Museums Are Important to Society

Art museums contain within their walls the foundation of human culture.
The museum of contemporary art in Oslo image by Einar Bog from Fotolia.com

You have probably walked the rooms and hallways of an art museum at least once in your life. It may have been a class trip when you were young, or it may have been as recent as this year. Perhaps you have never visited one. But a visit to an art museum is always an opportunity to learn about exciting people and cultures. You may even learn something new about yourself.

The Beginning

Art museums have been around since the beginning of man. You could argue that the early cave paintings of ancient man were the first museums. They tell us that from the very start, man has always desired to tell a story about what life was like for him; to expose his deepest feelings; and to leave a record of his existence and his contributions to his culture and community. In many ways, his displays also shed light on where he was heading and what his aspirations were.

Art Museums & Culture

Art transcends culture barriers. When we stand in an art museum and take in an artist's work, we allow our minds to cross borders and oceans and gain a better understanding and respect of one another's societies, ideas, beliefs, values and opinions. An art exhibit enables us to understand a society's standards of fashion, beauty and religion. It invokes thought and conversation about those cultures as well as our own. Art inspires us to pursue our own creative release and proudly displays human achievement. Art museums allow us to explore foreign and domestic cultures through paintings, sculpture, drawings, photographs and textile works.

The Economics of Art Museums

Suffice it to say that art museums have a significant impact on local and state economies. In Florida, the art and culture industry provides almost 90,000 full-time jobs, almost $200 million in local government revenue and around $250 million in state government revenue. Arts and culture provide nearly $315 million in revenue for the state of Oklahoma.

The Museums

Some of the more prominent art museums are the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which boasts two million works spanning five thousand years. The Louvre in Paris houses thirty-five thousand works, which span from early man through the 19th century, including the Mona Lisa, the Nike of Samothrace and the Venice de Milo. The Guggenheim in New York is considered throughout the world as a vital cultural center housing important pieces of modern and contemporary art. The Vatican Museum contains some of the most critical works from the Renaissance period. The National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., houses art works important to American heritage, such as the "Lansdowne" portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, which is considered an American treasure and as important to the nation as the Liberty Bell and the Declaration of Independence.


Through the ages, art has shaped the very fabric of our society. The buildings that house these works are shrines to human thought and experience. Art museums are monuments to what man has achieved and what he aspires to achieve. They are a testimony to man's desire to be more than himself.

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