It’s not unusual for a museum director to be asked, “What makes your museum special?” It happens every day. Visitors, staff, donors—they all want to know. For me, the key to the Clark’s special nature lies in the three aspects of its distinctive personality: its art, its unique setting, and its commitment to the generation of ideas.
At the heart of the Institute is its extraordinary collection of Impressionist and Old Master paintings, whose refinement and appeal reflect the fact that the museum has grown from a core group of works carefully and personally chosen by the founders. The domestic and human scale
of the galleries, with views out to the pond, surrounding fields, and distant mountains, fosters the contemplation and enjoyment of works of art in an intimate and warm setting—an unhurried experience with real works of art seemingly a world away from the virtual age. This is the hallmark of the Clark experience, an experience that is remembered forever by the thousands of visitors who come here annually from all over the world.
Situating the Clark in a site as beautiful as the Berkshires was a deliberate and inspired decision. We prize our role as custodians of a grand landscape of forests and fields on the edge of one of the most appealing academic villages in the country. Climbing the Clark’s Stone Hill, our visitors can look north to the farms of Vermont and east to the forests of Mount Greylock as they survey the center of the Institute’s 140-acre campus with its neoclassical museum and surrounding buildings. This architecture houses an array of resources, from one of the finest and most publicly accessible art reference libraries in the world, to the Clark/Williams Graduate Program in the History of Art
, to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center
Collaborating regularly with nearby Williams College
and MASS MoCA
(the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art), the Clark takes advantage of its special location as it uses the resources around it as a foundation for the third and most important of its special qualities: the generation of ideas by scholars, critics, and staff for a variety of audiences, professional and public alike.
To us at the Clark, the quality of ideas that emanate from the study of a work of art is as important as the quality of the object itself. As one of my colleagues regularly reminds us, “Still art still matters.” Given the Clark’s dual nature as both a museum and a research center, we can and should foster new ideas as we promote original, untested approaches to understanding works of art. In making this point, I often speak as a head of a laboratory might. I see the Clark’s role in the world as analogous to that of a greenhouse for a gardener or an incubator for a biologist: a place that fosters insight, argument, and explanation in a variety of ways. Our scholars and graduate programs provide an environment for students and researchers of all ages to inquire, research, and write. Our exhibitions and lectures, as well as our symposia and conference programs, air a variety of critical and historical perspectives on works of art and the institutions that support their study and understanding.
In this way, the Clark gives renewed impetus to the museum’s traditional role as “public intellectual,” a role from which many institutions in this age of culture consumerism seem to be retreating. The catalyst energizing our mission and programs is our commitment to promoting greater public engagement in appreciating the power and subtlety of our visual inheritance, thereby fostering greater insight into art and culture through illuminating presentation and accessible argument. Our regular, daily challenge is making art and the critical perspectives that accompany its appreciation more accessible to adults and children of all ages. Therefore, our focus on the generation of ideas motivates our staff as they articulate the most important of our guiding principles: “embracing the challenge of relating scholarship to public understanding.”
While there is no single Clark point of view, no single perspective or critical stand that we promote on the interpretation of works of art, we are driven by the challenge of presenting ideas generated by an ever-changing critical environment to a broad public of diverse ages and backgrounds. This commitment is what drives us and our institution every day, in everything we do.