Metaphor, Meaning-Making, and Museums


Metaphor, Meaning-Making, and Museums


The Museum Scholar, Volume 2, Number 1, 2018

Abstract Language is just one tool in a carefully curated museum that contextualizes objects and concepts. Texts in museums must be carefully and mindfully examined to avoid misleading, stereotyping, and other negative possibilities of linguistic associations. This is especially so in the case of figurative language such as metaphor. Metaphors are useful to illustrate complex ideas, but there are a number of potential drawbacks. Unfortunately, there is not yet any best practice, nor are there any published studies on metaphor use in museums. One recent study sought to examine metaphor use in text labels in museums to further mindful theories and future quantitative data collection to narrow this gap in current museum practice and theory.

Keywords Metaphor; Embodied cognition; Cognitive science; Interpretation; Education

About the Author Natalia Toronchuk is a writer and museums professional. She is the author and illustrator of an upcoming children’s guide to Redpath Museum (2018) and is currently finishing writing a new-adult novel. Her current research interests revolve around meaning-making and the actions people are driven to after they make meaning. Natalia believes it is important to move beyond anthropocentric worldviews, and she is deeply invested in broadening her cultural IQ as she lives and travels in cities all over the world.


Museums have a special role in interpretation and meaning-making as physical sites of learning and access to information. This position is not neutral or unbiased, however, the information and objects are embedded in narratives and analogies. The interpretive process begins with an object or concept positioned physically in an area created for interpretation with a curator’s vision and narrative write-up, and then visited and reinterpreted by individuals that possess their own phenomenological experiences, views, and preferences. Each instance is another lens that frames the original object or concept. It is important that both curator and visitor be mindful of how the information is presented because the interpretations, the meaning made, influences people deeply and creates a foundation for future knowledge, decisions, and ideas.

However, in the museum field, there is little data or theory on methods of interpretations within museums—least of all in metaphors. [1] Metaphors are particularly interesting to examine because they are everywhere; especially in museums where figurative language is a link-forming tool for reductive explanations or limitless imaginings. For example, a hypothetical museum object’s label might read: “the many symbols on this vase illustrate the rich tradition of storytelling in this culture.” Here “rich” is a metaphor associating wealth with the vase, suggesting a cultural heritage containing numerous examples of narration and symbolism. Metaphors both reductively explain concepts and pare down precious word count by describing in one word what would otherwise be described in twenty.  Notwithstanding their usefulness and frequent applications, metaphors are not evaluated much in museum accessibility and policy stratagems.

In light of the complete lack of information on metaphors in museums, a 2015 dissertation entitled “Metaphors in Museums: Mindfulness in Meaning-Making,” strove to collect a preliminary selection of data on metaphors used in text labels in museums, and to present the case for carefully examining metaphors in museums. The purpose of the dissertation was to illuminate how metaphors impact conceptualization from scientific and cultural perspectives, how metaphors are manifest in the museum, the types of obscuring and emphasizing caused, and how accessible metaphors are. A rubric was developed and tested within exhibitions at the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery (Figure 1) and the Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel (Figure 2), both in Glasgow, Scotland. A desired outcome of this research is that the methodology developed for examining a metaphor would support many types of future research, and the findings of this study could assist the development of interpretive strategies in museums. This article highlights sections from the more in-depth 2015 dissertation.

Figure 1: The center of the Scottish Wildlife exhibit, at the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow. Photo by author.
Figure 1: The center of the Scottish Wildlife exhibit, at the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow. Photo by author.

Metaphor: The Role of Cognitive Science and Philosophy

Worn-out … metaphors belong in the dustbin of history because language that saves people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves also saves people the trouble of thinking for themselves. 

Embedded in each metaphor are layers of accessibility, political correctness, truth, and biases. This is precisely what museums do: present narratives of information, ideas, and objects to visitors who arrive with their own perspectives, contexts, biases, and knowledge bases. “Many people repeatedly reject new information because they cannot find a way to mesh it comfortably with their pre-existing knowledge,” Kodi Jeffery states in her article titled Constructivism in Museums, this is just one risk for museum visitors.[2] It’s also possible to offend, mislead, or, based on inaccurate or unmindful communication, misinform. However, Jeffery suggests “museums may also help in knowledge construction by providing opportunities for visitors to build links to their pre-existing knowledge. Whenever a museum links concepts to each other or to experiences familiar to visitors, meaningful learning is enhanced.”[3] This is why the use of metaphor is both so powerful and so risky: because it has the potential to be a tool that can not only convey new concepts but also connect them with their reader or listener by linking with other information. But the alternate possibility is creating trite, overly simplistic, culturally inappropriate, or conceptually misaligned with the rest of the presentation, exhibit or objects. Geary warns us against this particularly about politics, but it is applicable to any institution of authority, a stance which museums often hold, sometimes too preciously: “Worn-out … metaphors belong in the dustbin of history because language that saves people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves also saves people the trouble of thinking for themselves. And that’s the first step on the slippery slope to chaos.”[4]

Without a close examination of metaphors and how they function their educational and communicative power can not only be lost but actually negatively influence the meaning made. In The Rhetoric of Economics, McCloskey cautiously but encouragingly wrote, “Unexamined metaphor is a substitute for thinking — which is a recommendation to examine the metaphors, not to attempt the impossible by banishing them.”[5]

Thanks to the rapid advances in cognitive science, as well as research and theories developed by linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, a potentially helpful way of understanding metaphor is through the lens of “embodied cognition” and in synesthetic, ontological and conceptual metaphors. To oversimplify the notion of embodied cognition and Lakoff and Johnson’s views, embodied cognition explores the fact that metaphorical thinking and reasoning originates in our physical bodies (Table 1). This results in some of the most simple metaphors, such as orientational metaphors like “Happy is up” which manifests in sentences like “His spirits rose” or synesthetic metaphors like “She is a warmhearted person.” [6] One of the reasons why these metaphors are so effective is because they resonate with us on such a base level from our biology. Lakoff and Johnson speculate that this has to do with biological needs and therefore inclinations towards positive associations with certain concepts. For example, warmth indicates that a body is still alive. Being able to stay warm has been crucial to our survival and evolution as a species. Temperature warmth transforms into a metaphor to signify a positive emotional or psychological disposition. Physical experience forms a fundamental part of our experience, although these perceptions can differ culturally. Using the ideas of embodied cognition, designer Michael Hendrix associated ideas of ‘freshness’ with mattresses, for instance, by using plumper, crisper images of mattresses for promotion.[7] By associating physicality through metaphor, the target — perhaps the museum object — takes on the meanings of the source, whether this is an accurate claim or an expectancy bias.[8] Furthermore, finding mimetic patterns, like metaphors, is hardwired into our brains: it’s a cognitive process we will engage in often with no conscious effort on our part.[9]

Metaphors, Truth, and Accessibility

Textual metaphors are just one example of a literal and figurative framing that occurs in museums. Architectural contexts, actual picture frames, spatial layout, plus any direct communicative (pictorial or linguistic) contextualizing sets up a framework for an object or a concept in the museum. David Phillips demonstrates a physical example of this in a museum: two identical images of people working in a pottery workshop are compared. [10] In the second image, the photo is cropped much farther away, and it is now apparent that the people are not in a workshop but installing an exhibition. [11] “Perceptions are based on the framing of an object, whether this is a literal cropping of an image, or metaphorical framing using some kind of conceptual framework.”[12] They can alter and enrich our understanding of reality, especially for difficult to understand concepts.

Figure 2: A police car exhibit, at the Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel in Glasgow. Photo by author.
Figure 2: A police car exhibit, at the Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel in Glasgow. Photo by author.

As explained through concepts of embodied cognition, and through our physical environment, our biology and cultures influence our metaphors, but it’s also accurate to say that metaphor influences our culture: “The people who get to impose their metaphors on the culture get to define what we consider to be true.”[13] Metaphors have a tendency to sound very matter-of-fact, especially when wielded by an authority. Such an authority should be especially mindful of the way its narratives can be used and misused.

Dead metaphors can be especially pernicious by creating fallacies or drastically misleading by over or underemphasizing something. For example: “This fact argues against the standard theories.”[14] The figurative notion of a “fact” arguing provides emotional strength to the statement when in reality such a fact is neutral and has no capacity to actually defend or argue. While this is only one example of their bountiful presence in our everyday speech these kinds of metaphorical concepts can contribute to what are known as core beliefs in psychology. Core beliefs were made known largely by psychiatrist Aaron Beck, regarded as the father of cognitive therapy, who explained that they are beliefs which shape and govern reactions, choices, thoughts, and emotions.[15]

Expectancy bias, othering, dehumanization, and cognitive dissonance are potential products of figurative and metaphorical devices…

Expectancy bias, othering, dehumanization, and cognitive dissonance are potential products of figurative and metaphorical devices, which can broaden our understanding of the topic at hand but can also warp and limit our impressions.[16] Without evaluating which metaphors are used in these concepts, a subtle metaphor or personification, both used rhetorically to be easy to identify with, these notions can shape a life based on entirely misleading frameworks.

At the same time, metaphors can be misleading by being difficult to identify with. In the dissertation, three major metaphor accessibility points were identified and analyzed: cultural accessibility, children’s accessibility, and accessibility for those with a cognitive disorder. First, a blind person’s culture will likely be somewhat limited in terms of visual metaphors, and a person who lives in a hot climate would find associations to cold, snowy imagery less effective than someone who lives somewhere chilly. These are examples of cultural associations that might pose barriers to understanding certain associations.

Second, children interpret metaphor quite differently from adults, and this carries on into the teen years in different forms. For example, five to six-year-olds are more likely to take metaphors literally.[17] In one study, at the end of a story about a girl, the phrase “Sally was a bird flying to her nest” was interpreted literally by younger children, whereas eight to nine-year-olds grasped its metaphorical meaning.[18]

Finally, cognitive disorders can provide similar challenges to those experienced by children when an individual lacks cognitive or emotional development that occurs in childhood development. For instance, people with an autism spectrum disorder have difficulty understanding figurative language such as metaphor.[19] By turning a mindful eye towards metaphor this approach stresses the needs and agency of the visitor.

Disgusting Metaphors and Open Interpretation

Figure 3: The image of “Dead man’s fingers” coral in Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow. Photo by author.
Figure 3: The image of “Dead man’s fingers” coral in Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow. Photo by author.

Emotional triggers are one of the ways in which a metaphor can be so powerful. Disgust, for example, can make a very eye-catching and memorable statement. It can also narrow a neutral topic to be viewed predominantly through a negative lens. For example, “People say that this soft coral looks like a drowned man’s bloated fingers” referred to a coral colloquially named “Dead man’s fingers” (Figure 3). The image of the drowned man’s bloated fingers could easily bury the coral’s qualities with the strong negative psychological response. An alternative could be to focus on its lacey and delicate qualities. This is not to say that looking at the coral in this way was an ill-advised move; disgust can arouse interest in a unique way, and it can demonstrate that plant life can be appreciated for its strangeness and not just its beauty. Seeing the world as both disgusting and beautiful, rather than exclusively one or the other, is a valuable exercise in appreciating the world in its complexity. In the end, it depends on the aims of the curators. As cognitive science advances and if metaphor analysis is undertaken in museums we will have a better understanding of the effect of disgusting metaphors and analogies on the human mind, and how that is used in museums.[20]

A final example label from the study was “Captain Robinson’s exceptional seamanship gave Sir Lancelot the winning edge.” Through the rubric’s questions, the evaluator noted that the metaphor suggests a particular idealistic view: that in competition all conditions are equal for each member. The metaphor “winning edge” obscures the actual conditions and the occasion of the race. This is not to say that Captain Robinson did not wield his “exceptional seamanship” — for the limits of this paper the subjectiveness in “exceptional” will here be ignored —  but to note the difference between the two statements: “Captain Robinson was an exceptional seaman and won the race,” versus, “Captain Robinson was an exceptional seaman which caused him to win the race.” It is important to admit how these statements can influence beliefs. A non-structuralist acknowledgment would be that the apparent need for control, the belief that the competitors could control the circumstances, and the belief that circumstances were equal for all members is a perspective, not a fact.[21]

The questions of why competitions are important, and how we should conduct ourselves during them, are all important concepts that form the basis for how we make meaning of our lives and the lives of others. The process of awareness in this study encourages us to more clearly see how powerfully impactful interpretive methods are.

A Method for Examining Metaphor

A primary aim of the original dissertation was to develop a rubric for metaphor evaluation. The rubric would facilitate practical evaluation of textual metaphors in museums (Table 2). In the creation process, only panels accompanying objects or associated with an exhibit were evaluated. It is one of the main communicative mediums in the museum and it is a representative of ideas shared between curator and visitor. In the future research of all texts, scripts of tours, representational metaphors in architecture and, of course, of the objects themselves would be valuable and could be conducted using a modified rubric.

Questions based on the theoretical research were grouped into categories: Practical, Tactical, Thematizing, Process, Accessibility, Syntopical, Theories of Metaphor, and What of It. The data collected provided interesting views into the use of metaphor based on the samples of metaphors taken starting immediately upon entering each museum. The rubric was tested in three incarnations in two museums: the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery’s exhibit Scottish Wildlife (Figure 2), and the permanent display of vehicles (cars, trains, bicycles etc.) in the entry of the Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel in Glasgow (Figure 3).

Looking at metaphors individually as well as their trends brought up many interesting issues. In Scottish Wildlife anthropomorphic metaphors were widely used to explain how plants or animals exhibited aspects or seemed to behave like humans, in other words, how plants are like humans. There, organisms did things like “invade” and “hitch lifts.” At the transport museum machines were like plants: organic and growth metaphors were used to describe vehicles, their “lifespans,” parts and development, or “evolution.”

Figure 4: A label of “Accidental Invaders” in Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow. Photo by author.
Figure 4: A label of “Accidental Invaders” in Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow. Photo by author.

Conceptual metaphors (e.g.: “Looking like invaders from outer space, these Asian skeleton shrimps, are now found on the west coast of Scotland”) were the most common (Figure 4). This may be because concepts in museums are being related to more familiar ideas. This example also illustrates a common phrasing method which made the metaphors easier to understand: using the word “like” to create a simile (e.g.: “Looking like invaders from space, these shrimps…”). For “noun-noun substitution” metaphors this made identification of the metaphor straightforward. If the label had read “These invaders from space…” the metaphor might be taken literally. In this way, the simile can prevent confusion for those who might at first take the metaphor literally, for example, by a young child, or for non-native speakers of the language. Further assessment of this metaphor uncovers the cultural perspective of the metaphor, in other words, a culture that makes associations with space creatures as looking especially strange, bizarre, perhaps frightening, and most notably of all, that they would be invasive and hostile, rather than neutral or positive.

Directly from the study: By evaluating the metaphors, it became more and more apparent how adopted cultural values and principles shape perspectives to seem almost factual. The question ‘Is there a culture that might not understand the metaphor?’ seems pedantic in some cases, but by enforcing the question on all metaphors, awareness of cultural ‘norms’ which seemed universal are suddenly put on a spectrum of possible interpretations. For example, the term ‘split-second’ — as in the context ‘make split-second decisions’ —  is often used figuratively. When evaluated for its cultural accessibility, it became apparent that the cultural angle from which it was written is one which maintains a very particular conception of time. That culture would make claims about time having qualities like being measurable, having ends and beginnings, being able to be split into parts, being sequential and so on. Using the imagination to find a — possibly non-existent — culture that might not understand this figurative use — without knowing anything about the philosophy or theories of time — yields alternative conceptions of time, perhaps one in which time is simultaneous, non-measurable, infinite, or maybe even non-existent.[22]

The curator makes a stance when presenting material, ascribing to certain truths.

Realistically the implication for the museum would probably not be to eliminate metaphors and language that claim time exists: the curator is making a stance when presenting material and ascribes to certain truths. This is precisely why evaluating the claims of metaphors is so important, as it reveals how many more cognitive biases and claims are being made in the background in addition to ones that might be more popularly controversial and recognizable. Without this evaluation, it might not even be noticed that a metaphor is used, let alone a cultural norm. It encourages a phenomenological mindfulness of the background beliefs and conversations that run through our minds and through the narratives of the museums we visit.[23]

Being Mindful, Not Pedantic: Practical Uses of Metaphor Evaluation

It is not the museum’s responsibility to pedantically “fix” museums and visitors so that there is absolutely no discord in terms of cognitive dissonance or associations that can seem outlandish. To hyper-vigilantly eliminate the phrase “The next year, Captain Robinson’s exceptional seamanship gave Sir Lancelot the winning edge” because it might be a source of cognitive dissonance would be a bit extreme. However, the spirit of mindfulness in this study merely aims to increase our critical thinking and mindfulness skills so that museums and visitors can be aware of their interpretive strategies and inner scripts. In the above example, such mindfulness could lead to questions about how we perceive competitions. In this, we are led to believe that Captain Robinson exerted a kind of control over the totality of the circumstances, a non-fatalist perspective. Further, it amplifies a cultural mentality of individual heroism and social hierarchy, as opposed to celebrating the efforts of the team.

It is not the goal of this study to encourage a practice that aims for a kind of objective stance that is perhaps impossible for humans in our subjective experiences.

It would be impossible for a museum to eliminate all potential descriptions that might offend a fatalist, and it is not the goal of this study to encourage a practice that aims for a kind of objective stance that is perhaps impossible for humans in our subjective experiences. Furthermore, the aim of the text, which was to build excitement about the local Glaswegian racing ships, is satisfied. Even so, “the opportunity to engage on literally more meaning-ful levels with their subjects and objects abounds because of this [study’s] investigation. It makes a museum more accountable to their audience and their objects. And it fosters a spirit of mindfulness that will hopefully be felt and then adopted by the visitor.”[24] By acknowledging the limits and potential of metaphor and figurative speech in museums, both museum staff and visitors can acknowledge the power of such a tool. “Developing a system of curious mindfulness in the use of metaphors is [therefore] important for museums to be journalistically honest while conscientious of their own goals and the injection of their own critical bias.”[25]

Social and community engagement is increasingly one of the most popular topics in the museum field today, and metaphors and the evaluation rubric offer multiple opportunities for growing engagement. The rubric’s final question asks, “Does the metaphor raise any questions?” invites reflection on the reaches of a metaphor. For the metaphor “Our [Scottish] wildlife is a treasure,” some of the evaluator’s questions were “Is all wildlife a treasure? What makes wildlife a treasure, is it because it is on ‘our’ land?” Metaphor subtly promotes these questions by the associated qualities of its comparison, and the use of a rubric could help introduce more proactive measures of involving visitors to ask these questions. As visitors are invited to reflect on their own opinions and concerns they will become more mindful of the metaphors used around them. Museum visitors might also be interested in developing their interpretive skills more directly, and having the resource of metaphor evaluation would be an excellent tool. This might take the form of a resource that the museum could provide, but it is also a skill that can be developed independently. As explored here there are many connection points that could enhance this area of museum outreach, although the use of metaphor in the field of social engagement was not explicitly observed in the collection of data for this study.

Metaphors can also help the development of an exhibit on a larger scale. Curators use metaphors to conjure associations for their purpose, and investigating the purpose of metaphors in museums on a wider scale could be useful to improving upon exhibits. By brainstorming associative imagery, especially in groups, curators can reach for unique comparisons and frameworks. Use of a rubric which examines components of metaphors such as the one introduced by this study can also help identify holes in logic or in accessibility. On an even broader scale, the evaluation rubric could be used in interviews or surveys to collect further qualitative and quantitative data from across demographics on interpretation and meaning-making in an individual museum or exhibit. An exciting possibility would be the potential to appreciate interpretations from different cultures and for museums to evaluate their personal impact. Questions of intent, of process in refining the metaphor, of selection of one metaphor rather than another, would all provide insight into metaphor curating, thereby contributing to improved museum practice.

In Summary

This mindful, evaluative approach could generate insightful quantitative data on metaphors in museums, and the results could help improve current interpretation and development methods. We could find out, for example, what metaphors are most used to explain animal activity and whether they are effective. Perhaps there are anthropomorphic metaphors that prevent understanding of animal activity. Potential ethical considerations are massive. We can begin asking questions about metaphorical concepts and how they structure our thinking. In thinking about how to approach teaching in the museum George Hein asks:

When a physics text divides the subject matter of physics into mechanics, light, heat, etc., does the text reflect a natural division of the subject based on its fundamental properties in the world, or does it reflect a human structure imposed on the world with the intention of making it intelligible to students?[26]

Developing a mindful “best practice” in the museum for the use of metaphor could help curators and visitors be more in control of metaphor and interpretation skills. It is important to acknowledge how meaningful the metaphors used around us are; they carry the meaning that we give them, and they shape meaning for us to accept as figurative and literal truth. Examining metaphors can also help museums to align their practice with the Museums Association Code of Ethics, especially those related to fitting the public needs (sections 3.2, 3.4–3.7) and cultural sensitivity (sections 9.6, 9.9) such as “Recognize the assumptions on which interpretation is based and that presentational styles may shape perception in unintended ways…Consider carefully the impact of interpretations that exclude any reference to people associated with the items.”[27] If one hesitates to acknowledge the cultural, intellectual, factual statements that perform so convincingly in the language we use, then one simply ignores the massive forces at work behind the curtain.[28]

List of Figures and Tables

Figure 1: The center of the Scottish Wildlife exhibit, at the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow. Photo by author.

Figure 2: A police car exhibit, at the Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel in Glasgow. Photo by author.

Figure 3: The image of “Dead man’s fingers” coral in Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow. Photo by author.

Figure 4: A label of “Accidental Invaders” in Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow. Photo by author.


[1] Metaphor: 1. A figure of speech in which a name or descriptive word or phrase is transferred to an object or action different from, but analogous to, that to which it is literally applicable. 2. Something regarded as representative or suggestive of something else, esp. as a material emblem of an abstract quality. “Metaphor,” Oxford English Dictionary Online, accessed 2015,

[2] Kodi Jeffery “Constructivism in Museums: How museums create meaningful learning environments,” in Transforming Practice, ed. Joanne Hirsch and Lois Silverman (Washington, DC: Museum Education Roundtable, 2000), 214.

[3] Ibid.

[4] James Geary, I Is An Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How it Shapes the Way We See the World (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011), 136.

[5] Deirdre McCloskey, The Rhetoric of Economics, 1998, quoted in: James Geary, I Is An Other (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011), 43.

[6]  George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003), 7.

[7] Michael Hendrix, “WIRED By Design: How Metaphors Make Us Love Some Designs and Not Others,” YouTube Video, 9:12, at WIRED by Design, in partnership with Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA. posted November 12, 2014,

[8] Expectancy bias: is a term that comes from scientific experiments in which the experimenter expects a certain outcome and therefore experiences a cognitive dissonance in what the actual results were, and attributes related to the expected outcome. Expectancy bias is also related to the phenomenon of an experimenter’s expectations affecting the research subjects’ behavior and attitudes within the study, thereby confounding the results.

Target and Source: otherwise known as tenor and vehicle, these terms were coined by cognitive linguists to denote the two parts of the metaphor. The target is the object or idea that is described metaphorically by the source. (e.g. “Juliet is the sun” contains: “Juliet,” the tenor and target; and “the sun,” the vehicle and source.) This study uses the terms of cognitive linguists as they comprise part of the theoretical study of conceptual metaphor, on which this study bases its ability to evaluate metaphors. Natalia Toronchuk, “Metaphors in Museums: Mindfulness in Meaning-Making,” (master’s dissertation, University of Glasgow, 2015), 13.

[9] Geary, I Is An Other, 32-36.

[10] David Phillips, Exhibiting Authenticity (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), 205.

[11] Ibid., 207.

[12] Toronchuk, “Metaphors in Museums,” 23.

[13] Geary, I Is An Other, 116.

[14] Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, 33.

[15] Aaron Beck, “Negative Core Beliefs in CBT,” YouTube Video, 1:10, from Bala Cynwyd: Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy, posted 8 January, 2014,

[16] Dehumanization: In this context, dehumanization refers to the capacity of analogies such as metaphor and other contextual influences reducing the complexity of an individual’s or group’s beliefs and behaviors down to an oversimplified and sometimes negative set of attributes. Lakoff and Johnson use the example of a wait staff in a restaurant to illustrate how this can take place: “When a waitress says, ‘The ham sandwich wants his check,’ she is not interested in the person as a person but only as a customer, which is why the use of such a sentence is dehumanizing.”

Cognitive dissonance: In this context, cognitive dissonance references the ability to hold contradictory beliefs or values, and it is often discussed as how it influences behavior. For example, if after an injury an individual is told they must change a certain element of their lifestyle (ie. smoking) in order to heal, but they persist in the activity, this could be an example of cognitive dissonance affecting their behavior. Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, 39.

[17] Toronchuk, “Metaphors in Museums,” 13.

[18] Geary, I Is An Other, 156.

[19] Ibid., 57.

[20] Toronchuk, “Metaphors in Museums,” 48.

[21] Structuralism: Loosely defined, structuralism refers to the theory that elements of human culture are linked to an overarching structure. In this study, structuralism would indicate that metaphor holds to an overarching structure. Literary structuralists argue that there is a set of rules that determines the shape of a text. “Structuralism abandons the mimetic fallacy of a pre-existing reality…that the writer is translating into signs. Rather, structuralism argues that the reality effect of a text is produced by the sign system, not reproduced by it.” This illustrates an alternative to looking at metaphor as a mimetic action. It suggests that the metaphor is the origin of the expression, rather than the carrier of the expression. Rapaport, The Literary Theory Toolkit, 39.

[22] Toronchuk, “Metaphors in Museums,” 45-46.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid., 56.

[25] Ibid.

[26] George Hein, Learning in the Museum (London: Routledge, 1998), 89.

[27] Museums Association, Code of Ethics (London: Museums Association, 2008), sections 3.2, 3.4–3.7, 9.6, 9.9.

[28] Toronchuk, “Metaphors in Museums,” 57.


Beck, Aaron. “Negative Core Beliefs in CBT.” Posted January 8, 2014. Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy, YouTube Video, 1:10.

Geary, James. I Is An Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How it Shapes the Way We See the World. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011.

Hein, George. Learning in the Museum. London: Routledge, 1998.

Hendrix, Michael. “WIRED By Design: How Metaphors Make Us Love Some Designs and Not Others.” Posted November 12, 2014. WIRED by Design, in partnership with Skywalker Sound, Marin county, CA. YouTube Video, 9:12.

Jeffery, Kodi. “Constructivism in Museums: How museums create meaningful learning environments.” In Transforming Practice edited by Joanne Hirsch and Lois Silverman, 212-221. Washington DC: Museum Education Roundtable, 2000.

Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Museums Association. Code of Ethics. London: Museums Association, 2008.

Oxford English Dictionary Online. “Metaphor.” Accessed 2015.

Phillips, David. Exhibiting Authenticity. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997.

Rapaport, Herman. The Literary Theory Toolkit: A Compendium of Concepts and Methods. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, 2011.

Toronchuk, Natalia. “Metaphors in Museums: Mindfulness in Meaning-Making.” MSc diss., University of Glasgow, 2015.

Additional Resources

Barthes, Roland. Image, Music, Text. Translated by Stephen Heath. London: Fontana Press, 1977.

Duncan, Carol. Civilizing Rituals: inside public art museums. London: Routledge, 1995.

Economou, Maria. “The Evaluation of Museum Multimedia Applications: lessons from research.” In Museums in a Digital Age, edited by Ross Parry, 391–405. Abingdon: Routledge, 2010.

Foucault, Michel. This is Not A Pipe. Translated and edited by James Harkness. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

Golding, Viv. “Communication, Meaning-Making and Evaluation in the Museum.” Lecture at National Heritage Board Academy, November 4, 2011. Posted January 12, 2012, Youtube Video, 4:04.

Greenblatt, Stephen. “Resonance and Wonder.” In Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display, edited by Ivan Karp and Steven Lavine, 42–56. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991.

Hooper-Greenhill, Eilean; Moussouri, Theano; Hawthorne, Emma; Rowena, Riley. Making Meaning in Art Museums 1: Visitors’ Interpretive Strategies at Wolverhampton Art Gallery. Leicester: Research Centre for Museums and Galleries in the Department of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester, 2001.

Rice, Danielle. “Constructing Informed Practice.” In Transforming Practice edited by Joanne Hirsch and Lois Silverman, 222–225. Washington DC: Museum Education Roundtable, 2000.

Thompson, John, ed. Manual of Curatorship: A Guide to Museum Practice. 2nd ed. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd., 1994.

Veverka, John. Interpretive Master Planning: Strategies for the New Millennium—Philosophy, Theory and Practice. Edinburgh: MuseumsEtc Ltd, 2011.

Yellis, Kenneth. “Paradigms Shifted: Comprehending the Meaning from Without.” In Transforming Practice edited by Joanne Hirsch and Lois Silverman, 182-186. Washington DC: Museum Education Roundtable, 2000.

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