43rd Annual Meeting – Opening Session, May 14, The False Dichotomy of “Ideal” versus “Practical” Conservation Treatments, by Barbara Appelbaum (presenter) & Paul Himmelstein

AIC’s 43rd Annual Meeting opened with a challenge to its central theme, “Practical Philosophy, or Making Conservation Work.” In her opening talk, Barbara Appelbaum proposed that conservation treatment does not place theory and practice at odds. Instead, treatment is inherently an act of compromise, in which the needs of stakeholders and the needs of the object are blended into an ideal course of action. As acceptable end states for treatment have broadened, a wider range of conservation strategies has become acceptable. Examples were drawn from the contrasting worlds of institutional work and private practice. These environments can offer different types of knowledge about an object’s value, authenticity, and ongoing care. Ethical and effective treatments are equally feasible in both.
Appelbaum cautioned that semantic debates between theory and practice can create burdensome self-doubt among practicing conservators. Our field’s professional literature is both abundant and conflicting, potentially leaving the conscientious practitioner with lingering worries about fundamental practices and tenets.  AIC’s core documents help to address this situation by offering support for flexible and ethical conservation strategies.
Contrasting views on the impact of compromise were discussed elsewhere during the conference, including Julie Biggs’ and Yasmeen Khan’s “Subject and Object: Exploring the Conservator’s Changing Relationship with Collection Material.” While Appelbaum highlighted how conservation treatment may be strengthened through processes of choice and compromise, Biggs and Khan suggested a dilution of achievable treatment goals and specialist skills given the competing demands of traditional conservation, digitization, and exhibition. These underlying themes animated many varied and timely discussions throughout the Miami meeting.