Mom, are giraffes endangered? Bea asked the other morning at breakfast. Is that why they’re in zoos?
As I paused to answer, Bea continued to ask what made animals endangered; how do they end up threatened? We talked about hunting and climate change and how zoos keep a lot of animals safe. But we talked about how zoos are feeble, at best, at replicating a native environment. I asked her if she’d rather live in the wild or at a zoo.
I’d rather live in a zoo! You have people to feed you and play structures.
We moved on to other topics but I started thinking about her response. After reading Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman a few years ago, I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable with our zoo membership. Yes, there’s some great research and preservation happening in zoos. But there are a lot of depressed animals. What is the cost of preservation?
When I visited Estonia in high school, we went to a zoo that was all concrete cages. The animals may have had a branch to climb but ultimately, the tiger, the elephant, and the sloth all had about the same square footage. It was pretty depressing. I’m sure that zoo has changed in the decades since I’ve visited, just as our city’s zoo has expanded and created more thoughtful spaces for the animals. Conservation is still at the heart of the zoo model but best practices have changed and created a more authentic environment for the animals.
The question of responsible conservation isn’t just a question for zoos and animals. In the art world, there are divided camps over the philosophy of preservation. How much do we meddle? When do we recognize that an artist’s experimentation with paint isn’t sustainable? Does a painting need to last longer than 500 years in pristine condition?
One of the most famous debates in the art world is the conservation of DaVinci’s The Last Supper. The past 500 years have been spent preserving a painting that began disintegrating 20 years after its installation. Yes, it’s an incredibly important piece of Renaissance art. But at what cost do we continue to preserve something that was an experiment in itself?
Lent starts today and this year, I’m not giving up anything big or adding any grand project to my days. It’s been a season of lots of change for our family in many ways but mostly because it’s our first tax season as business owners. In a hectic time of year, we have new layers of questions and unknowns to contend with.
So, I’m working my way through a traditional Bible study. I’ll be reading the plan each day, journaling, answering questions and reflections. I purposefully chose a plan from a more conservative point of view. I’ve been reading a lot of books that have stretched my thinking and am so glad for them but I’m recognizing the need to balance progression with conservation. What are interpretations that have pushed us in good was and what are interpretations that are solid foundations?
One of my hopes for this Bible study is to dig into my own views of Biblical conservation. What is worth preserving? What was truly an example of cultural context? What is the overarching storyline and takeaway? What I’ve learned about conservation is the imperfections of it. We conserve art and animals the best we can with the best resources we have. But when we learn new things and better ways, experts reevaluate those practices and implement new ones.
I’ll be spending Lent digging into the Bible, examining my conservative roots, and really trying to understand which pieces are worth conserving and which pieces of the story could be brought to light as we learn more about the history and storytelling of this era. I’m no theologian so, at the end of these forty days, there will be no radical reformation. But I’m hoping that there will be a deeper thoughtfulness to the story and the overarching plotline God is building.
How do you conserve what’s important while learning new things? What are your thoughts on preserving artwork?