According to the Urban Dictionary, jizz is a slang word for the male semen. But bird-watchers sometimes use it in another meaning, namely to describe the overall ‘at-a-glance’ appearance of a bird that makes it possible to identify it in the field in a split-second. (There’s probably no connection between the two meanings of the word jizz :-).

For birders, jizz is a combination of features like the bird’s voice, its posture, the way it flies or moves, the habitat where it’s found, etc. The ‘alchemy’ of jizz is that experienced bird-watchers can usually make fairly reliable rapid identifications of birds that way. It’s not an analytical description of all its fetures, but rather a kind of tacit knowledge identification, often down to species level.

It struck me that museum exhibitions too can be described and evaluated in terms of jizz. You don’t really need to read the wall-texts or the labels, or watch the displayed objects closely, in order to get an overall understanding of what’s going on. You can walk through the rooms rapidly in a few minutes, throw a few glances at a dome of the objects that catch your immediate attention, read the headlines of a couple of wall posters, and watch the other visitors — their gestures, the way they speak and behave.

Of course, this ‘at-a-glance’ evaluation of an exhibition is not a substitute for the close reading of the texts and the careful inspection of the objects and images on display. But it nevertheless reminds me about the fact that even the most painstakingly curated and research-based exhibition — with meticulously proof-read texts and exquisitely chosen and cleaned artefacts — is a missed opportunity if it doesn’t have that overall quality which makes easily definable and understandable as a whole.

So even though the details are good, the overall impression may be one of confusion. The term jizz is a reminder of the importance for curators to secure the impression of the whole. In a glance, what is the exhibition actually about? You shall not have to read anything in the catalogue or more than a few wall-texts or seen moe than a couple of artefacts to understand it.

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