Saturday, February 10, 2007

Is Interpretation Dead?

A colleague--and fellow free-lancer--called yesterday to talk about the word interpretation. It's one of those inside baseball words--words that we use in the profession but we constantly need to explain to others. And when you do interpretation as a consultant, it's often the very first part of your conversation with a client. She'd had several people tell her that in the field, interpretation was dead--it was no longer used in museums. We jointly decided to disagree with that, but then wondered if there were a better word. I often use the metaphor of a bridge (borrowed, I think from Falk and Dierking somewhere) with the visitor on one side and the information about your site or exhibit on the other. If you don't have something to help them across they'll never get it. I have to admit, other than Freeman Tilden, I don't know when the word came into existence and assume it exists because interpretation from one language to another is a living, person to person communication--rather than translation, which implies something on a page. In either case though, I think those images still work. When we think of powerful interpretation, we're not thinking of something that's word for word, or in our cases, fact for fact. If you think that straight-forward approach works, try any of those free translation sites. Word for word doesn't get you to the essential meaning of even simple concepts, muchthe less complicated stories. So what word should we use? I'm still thinking--and very open to suggestions.

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