The Poetry of the Museum: A Holistic Model For Numinous Museum Experiences

Publication Title

Museum Management and Curatorship

Publication Date


Document Type





visitor studies, museum visitor experience, transactional, numinous, aesthetic experience, museum exhibitions, museum collections, public programs


Archival Science | Collection Development and Management | Library and Information Science


The purpose of this paper is to explore a certain kind of museum experience—the numinous experience—a deeply connective, transcendental encounter one may have with a museum object, site, or exhibit. A model, borrowed from reader response theory, is illustrated in order to aid in the exploration of these deeply moving museum experiences. Louise Rosenblatt's Transactional Theory of the Literary Work is an effective model—even beyond the world of reading text—in understanding these encounters that may occur between an object, a museum visitor, and the situation in which they come together. In the art world, these moments are well-known as aesthetic experiences. It is through Rosenblatt's model of experiencing the poem, a broad understanding of an aesthetic encounter, that we can begin to place the numinous experience into the broader range of human experience with material culture.