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4 Ways to Think about Objects

What are some different ways we can look at objects?

  • Materiality: "'Material objects' include items with physical substance. They are primarily shaped or produced by human action, though objects created by nature can also play an important role in the history of human societies" (Waugh, n.d.).
  • Identity: "Identity emerges in the fixation of social selfhood, but objects are not thereby fixed absolutely or forever. Like persons, objects have a social life. They come to be what they are in relation to other things and can be transformed by their experiences" (Hein, 2000, pp. 53-54).
  • Textness: "The meanings at stake need to be interpreted in context, and the immediate context is that of museums themselves as a kind of 'text': a space which makes meanings, and which can be 'read'" (Ravelli, 2006, p. 119).
  • Aestheticness: "Now the existence of these satisfactions in the aesthetic experience is a function of the aesthetic field, i.e., of both subject and object, the subject through adopting the aesthetic point of view, the object through being an entity structured in certain ways, the ways being quite numerous and dictated by, among other things, the medium and materials involved, the inventiveness and craftmanship of the creator. The satisfaction is not in one or in the other, it is an outcome of the transaction between the two" (Zimmerman, 1966, p. 185).


Hein, H. (2000). The museum in transition: A philosophical position. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Ravelli, L. (2006). Museum texts: Communication frameworks. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. 

Waugh, D. (n.d.). Material culture/objects. Center for History and New Media, George Mason University. Available at https://chnm.gmu.edu/ worldhistorysources/unpacking/objectsmain.html.  

Zimmerman, R. L. (1966). Can anything be an aesthetic object? Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 25(2), 177-186.

Prepared by D. Blair for Museum Education Team instruction, 2014